“Wonne Monat Mai” they call it in Switzerland. “Wonne = delightful, joyous, rapturous May.” I try to take a bike tour every day or so, and around every corner I’m rewarded with a new burst of colour. Olive canola fields, shimmery barley fields, deep green sugar beets, blue green wheat fields coming into head, and in between I pedal along wild flower meadows that make more money than wheat, I was told yesterday.
We were touring the back roads across the Randen (foothills) with a group of farmers. The road wound through wild flower meadows which were in full flower – purple sage blooming among golden goatsbeard and white daisies. Peter told us that farmers can make more money with these wild flower meadows through subsidies, than they can with a good wheat stand. But to comply with standards, they have to have all eight required varieties of flowers in the fields, they can’t use any kind of fertilizer, they have to be within a certain region and they have to wait until June 1 to cut the fields.
There isn’t much there to cut. I wondered if it would be worth the fuel to mow. Peter says they have to mow, and they have to take the hay home. Somehow that one didn’t make sense to me. That’s working against nature, not with it, isn’t it? Nature always gives back, doesn’t just take. But then, who says subsidy rules have to make sense?
A week ago two fingers easily fit all the way in the crack (okay, that’s in the headlands). It’s going to take more than the 11 mm we received over the weekend to fill that. Switzerland’s had a very dry spring. Rivers are at all time lows for this time of year. The creek through the village of Schleitheim is hardly flowing.
A very warm April has everything ahead of schedule. When we arrived May 5, most of the canola was finished blooming. There’s been a lot of canola pod abort in this area. It seems to be related to plant stress, and only to certain varieties. They tell us there was a stiff frost mid April when some of the canola was in full bloom. Then came heat, and drought. Some farmers plowed their whole fields under. To put it into perspective – fields here are rarely more than one or two hectares in size and canola is one of many different crops.
The barley is all in head, and wheat is heading out. Crops are short – one farmer said that at least they would save on plant growth regulators this year! They’ll need that money to buy straw. Most farmers with livestock receive subsidies for using animal friendly production practices. Usually that means using a lot of straw for bedding. Short crops mean little straw. The drought is far reaching, so any straw that needs to be transported into the region is going to come from a long ways.