In Guérande, the salt workers watch the grain during the salt harvest

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Clear sky, big sun, light east wind … The conditions are ideal at the beginning of the harvest in the salines of Guérande where the salt workers, subjected to the vagaries of the weather, make "as if each day of salt was the latest".

"We do not know what tomorrow will be done, but it has its charm," smiles Charlotte Le Feuvre, who operates four hectares of salt marshes in Saillé, a village of salt workers on the peninsula of Guérande (Loire-Atlantique).

Thanks to the favorable weather of recent weeks, it harvests about 60 kg of salt in each of its 49 carnations, square basins where the precious crystals naturally form.

But we must go quickly, one eye riveted on the saline, the other turned to the sky. "If it rains the phenomenon of crystallization stops.We have to wait until the fresh water evaporates and the crystallization of the carnations restarts", or even pump the ponds in case of too large quantities, underlines the paludière.

Bob screwed on his head, the thirty-year-old repeats the same gestures, quick and precise, with his las, a rectangular wooden plate at the end of a handle of five meters. In a dynamic movement, it creates a wave on the surface of the basin, which moves "salt gray" (coarse salt), which it rakes on a mound.

Beware not to hang the bottom, at the risk of stirring the clay found there and whose impermeable properties allow to perpetuate ancestral know-how two thousand years, which has shaped these 2,000 hectares of salt marshes.

The duration of the harvest, like production, is closely related to the variability of time. "We are weather-dependent," explains Ms. Le Feuvre. Last season was saved in September, after two successive storms that had forced the producers out of work.

Before the coarse salt, a harvester took care to harvest, with the aid of a louse-rake-colander-the salt flower, substantive marrow saline. Its reflections are pink, its smell is close to the violet.

Captured, it breaks instantly like parmesan shavings. It will then be sorted and stored in boxes.

"It takes an east wind to make the flower of salt is a dry, dry wind," says the young woman, also chair of the board of directors of the cooperative "Les Salines de Guérande", which brings together 220 salt workers, which is about two-thirds of the producers in the peninsula.

Rising waters

The harvest started in early June under the best auspices. "It's a good season ahead, so far, so good," said Nicolas Arnoud, salt marsh to the four salines, about sixty eyelets.

But "it only takes a storm to stop for fifteen days in a row," he recalls, however reassured that the cooperative has a "stock of about three and a half years of coarse salt to amortize the small seasons "and secure income.

Practice in case of bad year, but what to do in the long term, in the face of climate change? In addition to possible storms or floods, it is especially the raising of the sea level that worries.

The marshes are certainly protected from strong tides by a dike of 27 km between Batz-sur-Mer and La Turballe, not to mention the dunes of Pouliguen and Pen Bron. But "we can not fight against the sea, we can try to adapt," wants to believe Ms. Le Feuvre.

In the face of uncertainties, she is sticking to her philosophy for the time being: "We must act as if every day salt was the last."

Salicultural producers are thinking of future developments to preserve this "reference salt in France and around the world," says Arnoud, also president of the Guérande salt defense and management organization.

Some 12,000 tonnes of salt are produced on average a year, of which only 5 to 7% of fleur de sel, according to the figures of the cooperative, which exports to 60 countries. This high-quality salt, surrounded by a protected geographical indication (PGI), also drains its flow of tourists: 75,000 people come every year to visit the salt marshes.

12/07/2019 18:46:51 –
Saillé (France) (AFP) –
© 2019 AFP

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