Early harvest puts apricot farmers at loggerheads

Prices collapse as French apricots hit shelves at the same time as cheaper fruit from Spain

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An bountiful early harvest of French apricots has had unforeseen circumstances that has worried producers.

Growers across the south of the country are picking their fruits a fortnight earlier than expected following generally favourable growing conditions, despite the heavy frosts of April 21 and 22, in the spring and early part of the summer.

But the early picking has come at a cost. French apricots are hitting the shelves at the same time as Spanish ones - and the glut has been made worse by the fact that fruit grown on the other side of the Pyrenees are noticeably cheaper than homegrown ones.

While low prices are welcomed by consumers, with prices ranging from just €0.80 to €1.20 a kilogramme, growers are being forced to sell the fruits of their labours at well below cost price (about €1.50 per kilogramme), or see their produce rot, unsold, in the warehouse.

After a disastrous 2016, when production was badly hit by bad weather early in the growing season, 2017 is expected to see an estimated 145,000 tons of apricots harvested - a 28% increase on the previous 12 months - close to the five-year average, according to Ministry of Agriculture figures. In the Rhône Valley alone, the harvest is expected to be 56% higher than in 2016.

But prices in May were 18% lower than the average for the period 2012 to 2014.