18 June 2021
From mid-June, the Mediterranean Cork Institute [Institut Méditerranéen du Liège], with the support of Diam Bouchage, a leader in technological cork and the largest buyer of French cork, is organising training programmes in mechanised cork harvesting alongside Serpe, a forestry contractor. This mechanisation, undertaken using the Coveless tool, will further speed up the renewal of the French cork sector, bring a new impetus to the cork oak forests with short supply-chains and will bring new life to our forests.
A SECTOR AFFECTED BY LOSS OF HARVESTING EXPERTISE
For many years, several stakeholders in the French market have been seeking to lead a renewal of the cork sector in the country. This is finally yielding results, but is nevertheless affected by a loss of harvesting expertise, which is a highly physical and delicate process often handed down between generations. As a result, the main levers today come from Spain and Portugal where cork is still a heavily-exploited material. Mechanisation of harvesting will allow many French forestry operators to carry out harvesting operations.
ORGANISATION OF FRENCH CORK SECTOR
For a year, all stakeholders in the sector have gotten around the same table: the Mediterranean Cork Institute [Institut Méditerranéen du Liège], the 3 producer associations (Var, Pyrénées Orientales and Corsica) and Diam Bouchage. “To collect cork, it first needs to be harvested, and so we are confronted with the problem of finding labour”, says Renaud Piazzetta, director of the Mediterranean Cork Institute. “So, we have come together to jointly define an action plan. Two years ago, the Mediterranean Cork Institute invested in a machine for mechanical harvesting, named Coveless, but we hadn’t managed to locate any operators. But Diam Bouchage then introduced us to Serpe, a contractor working in the forestry, pruning and green area sectors”.
COVELESS, A HIGHLY INNOVATIVE TOOL
First developed in Spain, Coveless is both innovative and effective. “It does the same job as manual harvesting using an axe thanks to its electrical saw. It peels the bark from the tree without damaging it as it has a sensor which measures the thickness of the outer layer of cork on the tree and automatically adjusts the depth of the cutter”, explains Renaud Piazzetta.
A handful of Serpe employees, for the most part forestry workers, will begin training from mid-June to learn how to use Coveless. “Diam Bouchage is pro-active in supporting the French cork oak forests and was actively seeking a reliable partner, sensitive to innovation, to support them in their labour-intensive tasks. We are genuinely delighted to work alongside them on this project, and to pool together the energy of our four sites located in the Pyrénées Orientales and the Var and thus bringing a new impetus to the French cork sector, which generates local employment and protects our forests”, states Armand Wiedemann Goiran, CEO of Serpe, a leader in tree management with some 33 sites across France. A total of 80% of Serpe employees will undergo training in 2021. The aim will be to increase workforce twofold over the next year. Training only lasts for one day. “We are aiming to build new expertise and it is very rewarding for our employees”, states Armand.
DIAM BOUCHAGE, A COMMITTED COMPANY
Since 2015, Diam Bouchage has taken a sustainable commitment by supporting the French cork oak forests (in the Pyrénées Orientales, Var, Landes and Corsica) by purchasing French cork for French bottling in French vineyards. The company is seeking to protect the resource by making a commitment towards forestry management. Last November, the French company provided financial support to plant 3,200 cork oaks in Provence to protect the forest land in the Var. Today it is going one step further by protecting trees, notably by clearing cork oaks and is planning to soon undertake further plantations.
AN AGRO-FORESTRY PROJECT
By seeking a way of mechanising cork harvesting, Diam Bouchage hopes to remove a further obstacle to renewal of the French cork industry and is launching the first part of its agro-forestry project with the reactivation of plots and the acquisition of raw materials from short supply-chains. “In France, we have cork but it cannot be harvested, and we can’t move forward. This mechanisation undertaken by forestry professionals will allow us to not only harvest more cork, but also to launch an exciting agro-forestry project with the harvesting of the female layer which allows us to produce our corks, and also the male layer where we will seek opportunities via short supply-chains. There is a real potential for French cork since we only exploit some 10% of what we used to in the middle of the 20th Century. The aim is to produce around 2,500 tonnes of French cork per year in around 5 years’ time, compared to 300 to 400 today. The forest will be better maintained, will develop more biodiversity and be protected from fires. The French cork sector is small today, but if successful with this mechanisation, it has some prosperous times ahead!”, stated Fabien Nguyen, Cork Purchasing Director at Diam Bouchage.
“I am absolutely delighted to be moving forward with this project, beyond the environmental and societal commitment, it will allow Diam Bouchage to diversify its quality cork supply sources and guarantee French cork users an economically viable opportunity. It is a genuinely innovative project which involves all stakeholders with a positive outlook for the region, heritage, environment and sustainability of an entire sector”. Dominique Tourneix, Managing Director of Diam Bouchage.
Institut Méditerranéen du Liège / ASL Suberaie varoise / Silvacoop / Serpe Groupe
Photo credits : JC Milhet