Today is almost a typical working day for Rémi. After days of bad weather and waiting the wheat harvest can now begin.
Rémi is a 49 year old French farmer, living with his wife and 10 year old son on a typical farm located in central France. He is a son of a farmer and his wife a farmer’s daughter. They live in a small village with 120 inhabitants, which once boasted 8 farms, however Rémi is the last member of the village to continue in the agricultural industry. He has a herd of 150 Charolais beef cattle, 30 hectares of grazing fields and about 60 hectares of cereal crops such as wheat and rape (Colza). He is alone on his farm with no employees.
How times have changed so quickly in the last few decades. Farming was once very labor intensive and the most important industry for a self-sufficient country. Now however, Rémi spends most of his time alone in his tractor, or in the stables and also trying to fight never ending paper work.
Today however is not a normal day as there is the harvest, with friends and family have arrived to help him out. The last few days have been stress full as the wheat has been too humid to cut, but for the last two days the warm southern wind and sunshine have helped dry the wheat, so now he can begin to cut. The herd of cattle are now in the fields, all the calves who were born during the winter have grown enough and can eat the rich grass. Rémi only has to check one or twice a day that all is well with his Charolais.
For now the priority is to finish the harvest as the yield is low and fading (after a very hot and dry spring). To make things even more difficult the price of wheat is tumbling, but only the price that is paid to the farmers. This is one of the most difficult and sensitive subjects to talk to Rémi about. PRICES !
Each year he earns less and less for the crops and beef which he produces. EEC rules are more and more demanding, the paper work for the tractability of the beef taking up hours of his time. New regulations and rules which are imposed for whatever reason, oblige him to invest in material and products, whilst the repayments to the bank just increase. What Rémi doesn’t understand is why he cannot sell his quality beef in France; all the cattle are sold to Italy. Yet he sees the trucks bringing beef from Spain to the local supermarkets. For the last few years the price he earns for each hectare of wheat has dropped, but the price he pays for bread continues to increase. All he will say is “They are taxing me out”.
Today, Rémi is happy reaping the yields as he goes up and down his field. His combine harvester has proved reliable and there have been now serious breakdowns this year. He knows he’ll be working all night and is thankful for the support from friends and family. Tomorrow he’ll begin to collect the straw which will be stocked for winter and used in the stables.
Winter is only a few months away and although there will not be much work to do in the fields, the calves will be born. And as Rémi says “for every cow that is born, I have to fill out a dozen papers, which nobody reads”.
I asked him what has changed during recent years.
“Before, farming belonged to the village and the people, no it’s a money making machine, but not for the village or the people.”
“Before, we knew how to grow and produce food, now we are told what to do by people who have never touched or smelt soil.”
As a side note, Rémi is a very happy person, somebody who loves and is proud of his work, family, village and way of life. Always smiling and ready to help others. During the winter when the snow falls, he is the first to jump in his tractor and clear the roads so that the school bus can take the children to school. In Autumn, he’ll help others bring in the wood for heating. In spring, he’ll be look after the hedge rows and country lanes.