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Cotton from the Gers: the crazy idea of three apprentice sorcerers

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They grow French 100 % cotton in the heart of the Gers region.

When people ask you what the Gers makes you think of - especially at this time of year - what do you think of? Well, make no mistake, the Gers, from now on it will also be ... cotton. Yohan de Wit, Médéric and Samuel Cardeillac have planted four hectares of cotton in the Gers to produce 100% polo shirts made in France. It all started with six seeds bought on the internet and planted at the bottom of the garden.
 
Mhe history of cotton began long ago ... when Alexander the Great's troops crossing the Indus River in 326 B.C. encountered people wearing finer and lighter clothes than any other. The soldiers marvelled, inquired and collected the seeds they planted on their return to Greece. But the results are disappointing and it is the Arabs who import the fabrics from India, starting to cultivate cotton in Egypt, Algeria, as far as Granada, Seville, in the south of Spain. Meanwhile, the United States is also growing these shrubs. In the 18th century, Europe became passionate about cotton. Imports from India were no longer sufficient; spinning and weaving machines were created, especially in England, which obtained supplies from Carolina, Texas, California, etc. And then almost all countries became involved, including France, which launched production in its African colonial empire. In short, from the end of the 19th century, the planet was covered with cotton trees and factories, those supplying them. (1)

The Gers, land of evolution

The Gers has nearly 7,800 farms on 446,400 hectares of Useful Agricultural Area (UAA), including 1,360 organic farms on 74,761 hectares (20 % of the department's farms). So the first agricultural department in France for sunflower, corn ... And yet, for the last six years, more than of 710 farmers have given up the trade.
So, when three local farmers choose to diversify their crops, they are initially thought to be "sorcerer's apprentices". But to respond to the wishes of the representatives of the Chamber of Agriculture of the department, "On the economic side, the future does not lie in the old structures but in actions of progress so that the farmer can earn a decent income".

Diversification of crops and ... climate

Samuel, Médéric and Yohan take up the challenge of producing cotton in France in 2016. Their goal, to make 100% cotton polo shirts made in France. From this crazy idea is born Jean Fil.
The first seeds have sprouted and Yohan, Médéric and Samuel are starting their second cotton harvest. Last year we planted 25,000 plants on 4 hectares and harvested 100 kg of cotton fibre. This year, we harvested 300 kilograms. »
 
 
"It was therefore possible to make cotton in France, says Samuel Cardeillac. Cotton is one of the world's most widely used fibres and accounts for almost half of the world's textile fibres. However, not all countries can grow it because it requires specific temperature and climate conditions: the shrub usually lives in tropical and subtropical regions, where the sun is hot and the rain is abundant. It needs a fairly long vegetative period and four months of water. At the end of its growth, the cotton plant needs a dry climate in order to develop its fruit in the form of capsules covered with this precious fibre. And if the weather is too wet, the fibre will tend to rot and will not be usable.
 
The cotton plant can however withstand temperate climates but especially not frost which would make it die: Cotton stops growing below zero degrees, it dies and stops growing above 37 degrees. Climate change would therefore have qualities that would allow new crops to be grown in France, where this was not possible before ...
 
So what do you make from the cotton you grow? The three farmers researched the entire chain, from the yarn to the finished product, and chose to create their own brand of French % 100 polo shirt, Jean Fil.
They are very keen to ensure that the fibre is manufactured to a very high standard, so as to avoid any degradation of the fibre, and have entrusted CIRAD (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement) with the task of analysing their production.
This very first collection was entirely made in France, thanks to partnerships with several French manufacturers, such as Guy Herard, or Aube tricottage, for knitting, or France Teinture, for dyeing. They are currently made at the Chanteclair establishments, a hosiery company that will cut and sew them. Then they will go to Sobrofi-Sérimar for the embroidery, a small cotton plant with three branches, a nod to the three creative associates. First selling price: 120 € which will be adjusted according to the quality of the cotton production and the reactions of the first consumers.
 
 
With the 2017 harvest, the three men were able to create 100 polo shirts. "We lost a lot at the spinning mill because the company was not used to such small quantities, emphasizes Samuel. The first models arrived in September but between family and friends, they are already out of stock! So we'll have to wait until this year's harvest, hand-made by the farmers and volunteers in the village, to hope to have his Made in France polo shirt. "In Montréal-du-Gers, people are very enthusiastic about our project."said Yohan de Wit to La Dépêche.
 
Around 50,000 euros were invested in the project by the three founders of Jean Fil. After having swallowed up all their savings in the purchase of the machines and the immobilization of the plots, a bank agreed to follow the realization of this real bet.
 
Above all, it was necessary to find a good seed, as well as soil adapted to this type of seed. After a first year of tests and the loss of one hectare of cotton, the results are conclusive: the cotton plants flourish under the sun of the Gers where sowing takes place in spring and harvesting around October. Thanks to the correct rainfall and the clay-limestone soils that the department benefits from, all carried out according to a reasoned agriculture, the success is there.
What's next? To obtain the HVE (High Environmental Value) label. "In any case, we might prefer to have a lower yield than to have to water. And if in the end our harvest is less good, we will recover on the margins in the long run! » reassures Yohan de Wit.
The next collection should offer a new range for women in their online shop, on their own websitewhile awaiting the opening of ephemeral shops in Bordeaux and Bayonne.
 
And as Erik Orsenna wonderfully writes in his "Journey to the Land of Cotton", "... I remember the beginning, the very beginning of the story: "A man passing by notices a shrub whose branches end in white flakes. One can imagine that he approaches the hand. The human race has just become acquainted with the softness of cotton. "Two thousand years later, the first lesson of a trip around the world is this: on earth, softness is a rare and expensive commodity. "(Edition Fayard, 2006)
 
 
(1) Voyage aux pays du coton by Erik Orsenna - Edition Fayard, 2006

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