In Eppeville, a small town of 1800 souls in the Somme, there is as a downtown the departmental road that cuts in two the village. There are two bakeries, a florist, a tobacco, some primary and nursery classes. Above all, there is the immense sugar refinery of Saint Louis Sucre and its many annexes, be it the dehydration line (the "déshy" as we say here), the laboratory, the offices, the former director's house (which no longer lives here for a long time) or the sports stadium that we owe to the factory.
In short, a whole world that has been turning for a century around the art of turning sugar beet into sugar. At the height of the activity, from September to February, 14,000 tons of sugar beet are crushed here every day.
The price collapse invoked
But on February 14th, this little world collapsed: arguing about the global collapse of the price of sugar, German Südzucker, the leading sugar producer and mother of Saint Louis Sucre, announced its decision to close two of its four French factories in 2020: that of Cagny (Calvados) and that of Eppeville. That is 10% of French production. Solicited, the company did not want to answer us.
Admittedly to Eppeville, the pill may seem less hard to swallow: while in Cagny, almost all 82 employees will be dismissed – "we just keep some on the spot to circumvent the Florange law and avoid having to seek a buyer grumbled Regis Grost, union representative of the CGT – in Eppeville, fifty positions would be maintained on the spot, and 76 of the 132 employees should be recased in the plant of Roye (Somme), also stamped Saint Louis Sucre, but 25 kilometers away.
In theory, at least. Because here, nobody believes in these transfers. "They want to reclassify 76 employees to constant production on Roye, it's just impossible! Regis Grost alerted.
Planters, boilermakers and others impacted
When the plant closes, especially, employees will not be the only ones to be impacted. The 75 seasonal, who come back every year for five months? "For us, it's over: we will not even be included in the social plan, and in the corner, there is no work," summarizes, fatalistic Sebastien, who has been working here for thirteen years.
Truckers, boilermakers, housekeepers and other indirect jobs that revolve around the candy? "In all, 1000 jobs will be lost," says Deputy Mayor Catherine Lardoux, who also refers to a financial loss for his town "at least 50,000 euros per year."
The closure is synonymous with a loss of "at least 50,000 euros per year" for Eppeville, according to Catherine Lardoux, Deputy Mayor. LP / Sarah Alcalay
Not to mention, last but not least, 1275 farmers who deliver Saint Louis beets. "Factories located nearby will never absorb the 21,000 hectares that were cultivated for Eppeville" decrypts Dominique Fiévez, the leader of the powerful CGB (General Confederation of beet planters) in the Somme.
The luckiest planters will be able to deliver Roye. For others, it's over: "Some of those who are more than 50 kilometers around Roye have received a registered letter warning them that they will no longer have a contract after 2020" reveals Dominique Fiévez.
Cooperative Recovery Project
At the current price of sugar prices, dramatically low, would it be an evil, moreover, to stop the sugar beet? Dominique Fiévez made his accounts: in 2018, he lost between 10 000 and 18 000 euros on this part of his activity. "But prices are very volatile, they can go up," he wants to believe.
As he believes in the project of recovery, in the form of cooperative, that the CGB presents this Wednesday to the representatives of Südzucher. "Our business plan is strong," says CGB, where we know we are closely followed by the Ministry of Agriculture.