‘Stone Rain’ makes for rocky farming.

August 16, 2011: Stone rain, they call it in Africa. The damage it did here in Schleitheim, Switzerland does the name justice. The old folks say they’ve never seen such a hail storm in their life. It was the timing – in the middle of the night; and the size of the hail – golf balls; and the amount. Margrit Gasser says whenever lightning would light up the sky; the scene was like one out of winter. Pure white everywhere.

Threshed by hail instead of the combine, most of the grain in this field landed on the ground instead of in the hopper. (background: Schleitheim)

Threshed by hail instead of the combine, most of the grain in this field landed on the ground instead of in the hopper. (background: Schleitheim)

     It wrecked havoc with the harvest ready grain crops. Canola was a 100 per cent write off. Markus Stamm’s son Simon insisted on going out to combine theirs, but didn’t get enough to pay for the fuel. The barley was mostly off already. Some wheat fared better, other fields were a full write off too.
     The corn is frazzled. It has cobs, most of it, but will have more trouble filling out. The sugar beets are recovering.

This battered ear of corn has survived drought, frost and 'stone rain'. It has some time to recover before silage time in October.

This battered ear of corn has survived drought, frost and 'stone rain'. It has some time to recover before silage time in October.

     At least it was raining again. For dairy farmers such as Christoph Hafner, the growing pastures and hay fields are more important than the loss of grain. Some dairy farmers had started to sell cattle, because they ran out of feed. I remember a similar scenario out of Alberta, Canada some years back. 
     Monika Wanner says she doesn’t remember such a farming year as this – first frost, then drought. Then some hail. Then rain when the crops were ready to harvest. Then that disastrous hail storm. It’s hard. I wrote in an earlier blog about the problems farmers will have with the short and thin straw this year. Cattle and hog farmers are required by animal rights laws to provide bedding for their animals on a certain percentage of the pen area. That’s going to be really tough this year. Not only was there hardly any straw, much of it fell on a thick fast growing thatch of sprouted grain from the hail, making it almost impossible to bale.

These passing hikers were delighted when Monika offered to share her prune harvest with them.

These passing hikers were delighted when Monika offered to share her prune harvest with them.

     It’s not a year I’d want to be a farmer here! But I did enjoy an afternoon in the prune trees with Monika yesterday. Although many were rotting because of hail damage too, there was still more than enough there. Many of the prunes we picked will go to the local care home, where residents will be delighted to prepare them for the freezer or for pie. That’s the best form of occupational therapy.
     Grandma and Grandpa Stamm prepared my prunes. As you see, I’m back in Switzerland, much sooner than expected. I’m here to support Robert’s aging parents, which have been struggling, until we find a more permanent solution. That could be some months.

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