I’m shivering in an old stone farmhouse in southern France, in my warmest sweater. The warm dry weather finally broke just before the long weekend – Ascension Day is a holiday for most of Europe. I’m sure all farmers are breathing a sigh of relief at the rain. Two days ago I biked in my shorts by a Swiss sugar beet field. This time I could put my whole hand in the cracks. The rain will save the sugar beets and corn, but for most grain it’s too late. Markus, a Swiss farmer, told Robert that some are silaging their wheat and barley. The barley especially was almost mature and there’s little in the heads. Too bad.
The Western Producer writes that canola could be in short supply because of problems in China and drought in Europe. What we see in Switzerland, southern Germany and France certainly supports that. This rain will help to fill out the pods, but won’t put pods where they dropped. What is bad for farmers here is, of course, always good for someone else. Prices go up.
Robert and I joined his brother and wife for the holiday at their weekend farmhouse in southern France, near Valence which is on the banks of the Rhone River. Driving down the Rhone Valley, I wondered who would eat all the cherries from the heavily laden trees all along the way. The cherry trees alternated with apricots. Both fruits are in season now – delicieux! The road side fruit stands were all closed when we drove in, but we got our cherries from what looked like abandoned trees on our hike yesterday through the crags and rolling hills near the farm.
The solid, large square farm buildings here are all built from stone, but most of them are either empty or being renovated as weekend ‘cottages’ for urbanites. It’s a bit like driving through the Canadian countryside – the small farms are being annexed into the bigger ones and buildings abandoned. Poking around the farmyards we find rusty one bottom plows and antique hay rakes.
We see a few small herds of cattle on the dry pastures. There’s not a lot of grass there – it’s been dry here too. We drive by some fields of thin rye. Daniel says the locals tell him it’s the driest spring since 1846. Judging by the scrub brush, it is generally a dry country though.
A local plaque tell us the people here once made their living by selling the wild chestnuts growing everywhere in the forests. The chestnut meat was milled into flour, the shells used as fuel for fires, and the timber for furniture. Now most inhabitants drive the 15 minutes down the narrow winding road to work in the city. There are still a few older farmers with cattle, hay and a few fruit trees but they’re a dying breed. It seems most of the serious farming is done down in the valley with fruit.