Diversifying agriculture through fruit tree farming in the Minervois (Languedoc-Roussillon, France)

The recurrent crises of the wine market provoked a serious level of precariousness for farmers, and independent wine makers. Since the beginning of their collaboration in 2009, Chemin Cueillant and BEDE have wanted to orient their work towards proposals of alternatives to viticulture through :
diversification of cultural techniques,
diversification of species cultivated.
Very quickly organic fruit tree cultivation appeared to be the most feasible. It seemed to be the least difficult to put in place considering the soils and climate of the Minervois, but also from a technical stand point for farmers used to working with perennial crops.
Moreover, if looking to diversify commercially, this project also corresponds to the wishes of several peasant farmers to enhance their food autonomy. A desire that helps them face the precariousness due to viticulture difficulties, but also to anchor themselves more deeply in a peasant way of life.
Despite all, numerous obstacles were quickly identified by the farmers of Chemin Cueillant for putting in place and taking care of these crops. Four main obstacles are the following :

  • The difficulty of bringing back natural fertility to suitable soils, necessary for the health and growth of plants that are more demanding than grapevine;
  • The question of water management in a very dry climate, again, for crops less rustic than grapevine;
  • The absence of local references for varieties adapted to organic low-input agriculture in the Minervois
  • The lack of basic technical knowledge (pruning, disease control, etc.)

Four focal points were chosen through collaboration with Chemin cueillant :