From an Ministry point of view, from a chemical lab or from a procurement screen in a large company, we increasingly think we have everything under control. The world looks manageable.
From a farmer perspective it is rarely so. Everything varies. Of course, and foremost the weather. Will it freeze while my grapes blossom or rain in October when I had planned to harvest my late potatoes. Will there be enough sun or even drought and will the grass grow enough?
Then there is uncertainty about what to plant. Some growers just follow their multiyear cropping plan; others make decisions, based on weather and market forecasts. Which variety shall I plant this year and how much? Such a question is even more risky for perennial crops or (changing) livestock. When you decide to plant an apple tree, grapevine or a new breed of cows, it takes years before they are productive, sometimes for the next 10-50 years. Which procurement director or CEO thinks and invests 5 years ahead and accepts poor returns for 3-5 years? Only some boys (!) in high tech start-ups do that.
And then there is the market. Are your customers going to buy what you plant? And what are they going to pay? In a bad crop season the yields are low and the prices up. In good year, some farmers earn less because the competition is huge, the price is so low that the harvest workers cost more than the yield.
All but one of the roughly 20 farmers I talked with between South-Holland and the South of France tell me that the weather has changed and become more unpredictable during the 20-30 years they farm. Last April an unusual frost ‘burned’ some 80 % of the blossoming vines in the Bordeaux region. In the whole 1500 km trip that I did, October to December are normally wet and cold, but were mild and dry now, while January flooded France (and that is certainly my observation!). The cicada is now heard in the region as northern as Blaye, much more north then it ever was.
Piste Cyclable inondée
In short, farmers deal with many more and increasing uncertainties than most of us. The response to that differs. Some take the advise from their service organisations literally and strict and exactly spray what is recommended when the rain comes or a disease is predicted. They do not take any extra risk to deviate. What would you do if you had put 100.000 euro in the soil and ‘science’ told you something? Two of the farmers I met (one conventional!) use a so called antenna Lecher to discover potential diseases and vitalities. They trust ‘their senses’ more and (also) have excellent results.
From a statistical point of view individuals don’t count (N=1). It’s true that a failing crop in Australia is compensated by a good harvest in France, the global market and our logistical systems. But if you zoom in, and you see the individual farmers suffer, have sleepless nights or even go bankrupt, I find such market tough and disloyal. I believe we have to reconnect something here.
Better price for the farmer; better for the environment and animal welfare, and acces to sustainable food for the consumer (Le Sud Ouest, 1 February 2018)
And President Macron and his government do agree 😉: On January 31 they issued a new food policy in France that aims to guarantee fair prices for farmers and a better environmental performance and animal welfare by the farmers. And the French consumers seem to support ‘their’ farmers, even at a higher price!, another article says.
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