The unwitting winners of France’s drought: Salt farmers

In a region better known for its variable Atlantic weather, more than 40 days of uninterrupted sunshine and light winds has meant scant rest for those who work the salt flats, said worker Audrey Loyer.

It is back-breaking labour: Under the baking sun, the workers wheel barrows along the narrow mud walls that separate each pan, scraping the sea salt from the bottom of the flats using methods and tools that have barely changed in more than four centuries. No machinery is allowed in the harvesting process.

“The workers are tired,” said Mathilde Bergier, a salt producer who runs a local shop. “There hasn’t been enough rain on the flats to justify a break.”

Bergier also worries that the intensive pace made necessary by this summer’s endless sun is unsustainable, concerned that the fragile mud structures in which the seawater evaporates might not survive such rigorous work year after year.

When the sun finally sets on this year’s record-breaking season, the region’s salt producers may wonder what to do with all the salt if uninterrupted hot weather becomes the norm. Several farmers told Reuters they now had reserves to cover the next couple of years.

“Some have already stopped working this season,” Bergier said.