PRODUCER & TERROIR
Florent Baillard is a blackcurrant grower living in Merceuil (Côte d’Or) and president of Socofruit, a cooperative founded by his father in 1987 to unite over 50 blackcurrant producers in Burgundy. A fervent defender and promoter of his industry, Florent is also president of the French Association of Blackcurrant and Redcurrant Growers and France’s representative at the International Blackcurrant Association.
« A ripe blackcurrant will quickly fall to the ground, so we harvest non-stop, night and day, to pick the best fruit. »Blackcurrant farmer and president of the National Association of Blackcurrants and Redcurrants
The soil in Florent’s farm in Merceuil is characterized by clay and sand. The climate is continental but tending towards oceanic, with nights cold enough to prevent blackcurrants from drying out. Blackcurrants are a typically Burgundian fruit which, historically, was often grown next to vineyards because the two crops have complementary harvesting calendars requiring the same tools. It rains enough here for fields not to need irrigation.
Florent has traveled to meet blackcurrant-growing colleagues in several countries worldwide, as he is always keen to find out how he can improve his work. He has learned numerous techniques for integrated organic management of the diseases and pests that can attack blackcurrants. As a result, his fields are a genuinely beneficial ecosystem that protects fruit and improves their quality. Ladybugs can nest in the strips of grass between rows of blackcurrants, helping to keep scale insects’ numbers down. Predatory mites have also taken up residence, feeding off the yellow spiders that can wreak havoc on blackcurrants. Hoverflies are also good at eating aphids.
Once they are ripe, blackcurrants can very easily fall off their bushes. As such, it is important to keep a constant watch over them so they are harvested at the right time. This shouldn’t be too early or the fruit will be green, or too late, in which case some of the berries will be lost to the ground. When Florent gives them the signal, his teams take turns day and night to harvest flavorsome fruit uninterruptedly over several days.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL ACTION
Florent is part of a project led by Acteurs du Cassis (or “Action for Blackcurrants”) aiming to safeguard the blackcurrant industry’s future. Their project has three main objectives. First, it will monitor blackcurrant plants’ genetic evolution and identify the best growing options in our changing climate. Next, it will support efforts to end the use of glyphosate and combat scale insects. Finally, it will help families to pass down blackcurrant farms over the generations. They are being assisted by researchers at the CNRS, INRA and various agricultural engineering schools. To give you one example of their work, in 2020 they drew up plans for creating new varieties that will be better at resisting blackcurrants’ traditional pests.
Our partner producer is particularly aware of the challenges around pollinating plants. Numbers of pollinating insects have fallen by 90% on blackcurrant farms, and yields being halved year on year as a direct result between 2000 and 2010. The entire blackcurrant industry is under threat. Experiments are being led and new solutions tested with scientist Marie Charlotte Anstett in an effort to boost pollinator numbers. Early results have shown great promise.