After years of decline, French lavender is staging a comeback. From 2010 to 2016, cultivated land has expanded by around 40 percent to 53,000 hectares (130,000 acres). The number of producers has grown from 1,000 to around 1,400 and France now also has 120 distilleries of lavender oil and lavandin. However, France has to contend with competition from Bulgaria.
Working its way across a purple-green field in southern France, a claw-fitted tractor harvests plants of lavender destined to become essential oil as a traditional sector stages a modest comeback. “They are slightly grey because they are starting to wilt, it is the best point for the quantity and quality of essential oils,” explains Vincent Jamonet who runs the operation in the Drôme region of southeastern France. The plants are fed into a hopper and taken to a nearby distillery.
Also nearby, fields of lavandin, a hybrid variety that provides greater quantity and resists bacteria, soak up the sun against a muted backdrop of the Vercors mountain range. The scent of Lavandin resembles that of camphor, which is not a sweet-smelling as lavender. The Jamonet family have planted 100 hectares (250 acres) of aromatic plants, one-fifth of which are organic. They hope to extend their crop surface to 150 hectares in the future. One motivation is to improve regional biodiversity, another is that “revenues are a little better than with crops like corn, wheat or barley,” Jamonet says.