Friday, 5 February 2010


Last weekend we have been invited for dinner by a couple living in a nearby village. He is a farmer and his wife works as a medical secretary in the next town. Three children under ten.

I don't really remember what we were eating but what he told me left his mark. Pierre's wife is a city girl but his family were peasants in this area since the end of the 16th Century.

That's a huge span of time. In AD 1588 Queen Elisabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada and Pierre's ancestor was the first to make his mark in the local church at his wedding.

Pierre is a dairy farmer, meaning he has around 50 cows and he makes his living by selling the milk to the local processing plant at a price fixed by the Agricultural department of European Union.

The cows over here, Salers breed, look splendid. See this website in English

When Pierre's father retired his elder brother took over the farm, the cows and the fields. He told me "you must have the farming job in your blood, working with animals. Otherwise you do something else".

Pierre has the professional qualifications, he had been at a farmer's college, but this job needs a lot of land, some cows to start with, machinery, a barn. When he started "peasenting" in 1981 the price of milk was such that he considered to be able to make a decent living.

So he rented the land and bought some fields whenever he make some extra profit. There are no lazy farmers. They get up at dawn and come back from work after sunset. And in Summer they work frequently late at night, to make hay or cut the corn.

Sometimes, during glorious warm Summer evenings, I see the headlights of their tractors and hear the distant rumble of the machinery. Sometimes till 11 pm! A lazy farmer becomes a has-been in no time. And they always work alone, sometimes with their wife, but never, never, I have seen a peasant here employing a paid farm hand.

Over the years the price of milk decreased, slowly but steadily. For a year now he sells his milk for less money than he needs to produce it.

He is covered in debt, about 20,000 Euro (about 30,000 US Dollar). Last year, we had a splendid Spring and Summer but for him that meant not enough rain. The maize (corn) was withering on the stem and he had to buy additional food.

This year 2010 might be his last one as a farmer. The price of milk does not and will not go up, he can work 18 hours per day, this would not clean up his debt, only add to it. His wife has to work, it has become vital.

Quitting farming means the debts have to be serviced and he dreads that moment of truth. He fears that their house - not yet fully paid - might get lost, too.

It should be said Pierre's situation is in no way extraordinary. There are thousands of farmers in many UE countries facing the same situation. They work and work and it is not good enough. And they produce food, there is not enough of it worldwide, but they cannot meet ends and many of them will go under.

When the earth quake hit Haiti, hours after it the governments worldwide sent airplanes with all sorts of help. And hundreds of NGO's and other professional do-gooders were crowding the place. But in this case I am talking about, nobody seems to be concerned. They face silent death.


  1. Hi George,

    The cows looks very healthy :)). It's sad to here these farmers are going under debt. I know for many Iranian farmers, it's getting harder every year to make profit.
    As you said it's a tough job. I know younger generation farmers become less patient and come to cities for easier career with more money. In Northern Iran most of the farmers are planting rice and I know it's really tough from beginning to the end that they sell their crops. some years that rain is not enough or sun doesn't shine on time they really suffers.. They are like a foundation of the society I hope things get better for them.

  2. It is amazing different our two countries are and yet we are beseiged by smilar problems.....
    You may have heard of poor farmers commiting suicide in India for exactly the same reasons u cite...

    Ofcourse the farmers here are really poor, at or below subsistence level, illiterate and certainly no education.

    This daily calamity does not attract or create megabytes or TRPs...therefore is forgotten and ignored....u see even NGOs need the end of the day it is all about the money....

  3. Thanks for commenting, Hiva and Rati.

    To Hiva
    Didn't know there is rice planting in Iran. I thought they were mostly eating bread, those flat chapaties I saw in Tehran and elsewhere.
    Leaving the village to work in town means you become an unskilled laborer. Starting at the bottom.

    To Rati
    Yes, I have heard of these Indian peasants committing suicide. And I forgot to tell, a fortnight ago a peasant here in this village did the same.

    As far as I can see, we simply do not pay enough for food. Or, the other way round, those farmers should get more money for what they produce. Presently, the supermarkets make the profits not the farmers.


  4. oh herr Georg, what a sad and yet interesting post, you are so right on the call for emergencies, it seems that we humans re-act instead of planning ahead or prevent... as you mentioned about Haiti, there were starving there before the earthquake but it took a massive event to pay some attention... and yet the everyday tragedies, the ones that happen slower, as in the case of the farmers, as i can read, all over the world, are left unattended, unsolved...

    and as much as we can thank technology in some fields, it seems that it hurts us so much in other cases, the prices of milk and dairy i am sure have declined because big companies have "industrialized" it, putting animals through suffering in order to produce more... in this process of mechanization of everything & the war of prices, we all suffer, farmers, animals, and even the final consumers, us, who end-up drinking altered milk by pesticides, hormones, etc... what a sad case, and even more on the suicides... when you grow up in a city like me, we even tend to fantasize that the life in the country is all calm, slow, and nice, wandering with animals along the hills... when reality is so afar from it... it's good to read you again herr Georg, in spite of being with such a touchy post...

    prost, and wishing things can change for the farmers who feeds us all over the world

  5. To Berenice,

    So are so terribly right. Before coming to live here, I had only foggy ideas what it means to work the land.

    As to suicide, there was one in this village, some days ago. And for the above reasons.........

    As to my posting, well, the last couple of months I got addicted to wood working, routing and planing.
    Suddenly I did not have enough drive to blog.


  6. Some day Georg, all the food will be produced by the "big people", and there will be no little farmers working hard. perhaps food will be a pill?
    No one cares what it costs to produce the food. All they want is it cheap, so that they can eat. In america we have terrible health problems because a package of carrots costs 3.00$, but a greasy hambuger costs .99 cents. No one can figure this, and I am scratching my head!
    Viva` the food revolution!
    A thoughtful post as always Georg!

  7. To Sorrow,

    You are probably right: the trend seems to go towards big farming, pocketing big subsidies and doling out cheep but not impeccable foodstuffs.

    As far as tendencies go, we are lagging 10 to 15 years behind the USA. Right now, the number of overweighties grow and grow. However, carrots are still cheap. Yesterday, my wife bought 4 kg (about 9 pounds) of carrots for about 4 Euro (about 6 Dollar).

    But in this case we have the same problem: those carrots are too cheap and the veg growers face financial "belly up". It is unsustainable.

    Thanks for answering and giving those prices. It is always good to be able to compare.


  8. That is so heart breaking.
    And yet things like this seem to be happening all over in other countries as well. Seems to me the government should step in and help in this kind of situation.

    But all of the work go's to the big company's and the small business men go under. Somehow they should be able to get some help.

    Such a shame! It's so wrong.

  9. Society changes fast to accommodate the needs of an over populous planet, and what you so poignantly cite is collateral damage of this accommodation.
    Manufacturing in the US disappeared some three decades ago to make way for the service industry and there were thousands who were left with no means to put food on the table for their loved ones! Dues to outsourcing the US is again confronted with an accommodation, and some section of society will have to pay a price. The bottom line is that the accommodation is always for the greater number and people such as Pierre unfortunately belong to the smaller group.
    An eye opening post Georg!

  10. salut George!
    voici un bel article
    merci d'avoir posté le site de Vincent RODDE qui est un artiste en la matière.
    As tu trouvé ce site chez moi ou l'as tu trouvé par hasard?

    Ce que je déplore, mais on en parlé de vive voix c'est cette agriculture moderne qui n'a rien à faire dans les zones de montagne.
    le pâturage était de tradition autre fois et cette culture du maïs est lamentable.
    Quand tu vois ces agriculteurs obligés d'acheter du fourrage dans d'autres départements alors que chez nous l'herbe est la meilleure, c'est à pleurer.

    de toutes façons les carottes sont cuites.
    A plus georg!
    bises à Elisabeth.

  11. For Exseno, Id and Vincent

    Frankly, I don't know what should be done. Who knows, maybe quitting farming would be the best solution if he finds a decent job somehow.

    Id it is
    You are mentioning outsourcing. We have the same problems over here. Right now, it is difficult sometimes to find goods not made PRC. Frequently I buy things made here hoping they might be of better quality than the cheap Chinese stuff.

    This talking about living in a service society is just empty chattering and blubbering. We are always surrounded by things or goods that have to be made. And I think we should do it ourselves but in good quality. Service is a plus nothing else, nothing more.

    Content que tu aimes. Comment j'ai trouvé Vincent Rodde? : Google avec "Salers+photo". Quant aux pâturages, bien sûr mon ami a des champs et les vaches sont dessus. Mais je crois il n'a pas assez de champs pour le nombre de bétail et il ne peut pas diminuer s'il veut vivre. C'est compliqué et particulièrement pour quelqu'un qui est obligé de louer la majorité des champs.