Friday, January 21

Growing cotton in France? The crazy bet of three Gers farmers

From a distance, they look like big snowflakes: harvest time is approaching in the only cotton field in France, a crazy bet, but successful for three farmers from Gers who then have this wadding woven to make polo shirts sold under their own brand.

“There is no more + Made in France + because we control the chain from end to end, from production to the finished product. But we wiped plasters from the six little cotton plants planted in the garden to see this what it would give! “exclaims Yohan de Wit.

In 2017, the very first harvest sown on the land of the family farm in Montreal, in the Gers, yielded 100 kilos of cotton: “We said to ourselves + if it doesn’t work, too bad +. ‘is given trouble, we even picked up by hand because we did not yet have a machine! It was hard, but then we could not stop “, tells AFP Médéric Cardeillac, one of the three partners in the project with his brother Samuel.

From their shed, the three acolytes gaze at the twelve hectare plot of cotton which runs down the slope to a small pond, between vines and a field of sorghum.

Sown in spring, the plants – which reach the knee – are adorned with large cotton balls sparkling white in the sun, cutting through with their leaves roasted by the first frosts.

“This year, the harvest is more than a month late, it was not hot enough during the summer and we also had thunderstorms in May which stunted the growth of the plants. more favorable weather conditions for harvesting, ”explains Yohan de Wit.

“When we started five years ago, it was clearly a gamble, even madness, to want to grow cotton in France, to adapt it to the climate here and above all to bring it to maturity. We are the only ones to do that, even if we discovered that a farmer from the Gers had tried in the 1980s – but it did not work because there were not the same outlets at the time ” in textiles, he says.

– Or blanc –

Yohan de Wit wants to fight “the a priori according to which cotton pumps a lot of water because it grows in hot countries: we do not water our cotton at all! It rains enough, even too much, and our clay-limestone soil retains water. So far, we have not used pesticides either, there are pests such as bedbugs but we accept to have losses. “

In a few days, the three farmers will harvest their white gold using a “harvester” – a sort of harvester bought second-hand in Spain, a cotton-growing country – “which combs the plant with rotating fingers” .

Once dried and ginned, the fiber compacted into bales will be sent to a spinning mill in the Vosges, before reaching Troyes to be knitted and dyed there. The final stage of the confection is carried out in Mont-de-Marsan (Landes), then the polo shirts (120 euros) and T-shirts (50 euros) for men stamped “100% French cotton” will be sold on the internet under the Jean Fil brand, launched by the three farmers who “produced” some 2,000 polo shirts in 2020.

“Our cotton travels about 2,400 kilometers in France to become a polo shirt, while today, on average, a T-shirt travels 65,000 km before reaching the consumer’s cupboard”, highlights Yohan of Wit.

He indicates that he is regularly contacted by French textile brands who would like to buy this unique French cotton, “but for the moment we don’t want to, even if we are starting to think about partnerships”.

“We still have area if we want to grow, but the goal is not to overproduce”, tempers Yohan de Wit, whose “ultimate dream” would be to locate all stages of production in the Gers, “with, to two steps from the field, a shed where the cotton would enter on one side, and a polo shirt would come out on the other “.

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