Imagine a kind of crane, hanging from the ceiling of a barn, which would be used to shift large quantities of grass in a single move, expertly steered by a young farmer. “It would be so practical if I had this on my farm!”, says Jarno enthusiastically. Just into his twenties, Jarno is taking part in this third FarmErasmus exchange. For this trip, two Belgian farmers and two Bulgarian farmers are visiting the Loir-et-Cher area of France.
From Belgium, our participants are Jarno, who will take over his parents’ conventional dairy farm, and Anne-Leen, in her thirties, who is in the same situation. From Bulgaria, Nevena, who owns a very small livestock farm, and Simeon, dairy farmer, are also on the trip. “None of them work with organic farming techniques”, stresses Suzanne Dalle, in charge of Greenpeace’s farming campaign, “but they are all curious to see how to do things differently, that is what is very interesting”.
Visit to La Guilbardière farm
For now, they are visiting La Guilbardière farm in Monthou-sur-Bièvre with happy owners Anne and Gilles. This dairy farm operates on a highly eco-friendly closed cycle business model, which affords it an economic and social balance which is quite hard to achieve in the region. In this area and with the crisis hitting the agricultural sector, it has been difficult for farmers to get by in recent years. “The way forward is to control everything along the chain”, explains Anne. “We feed our cattle solely with grass from our farm. There is no silage that way. We then process our products and sell cottage cheese and milk directly. We also recycle and reuse things as much as we can. For example, whey is used to feed the few pigs we have”.
What is particularly striking for our visiting farmers is the highly innovative grass drying system with its mobile crane. “I feed my cattle corn and other supplements”, explains Simeon. “But Anne and Gilles are much more independent. They don’t need to buy food supplements from elsewhere, it’s more economical and their milk and meat are of very good quality”.
Constant sources of inspiration
Over their four-day trip, the farmers visited a farm with Highland cows, a Scottish breed which has the special feature of adapting to any climate. They also met Margaux who offers picking and direct sales on her farm, and AMAPs (consumer networks who assist small local farmers) and farmers who process and sell their produce themselves. In short, there is an entire network of eco-friendly and innovative farmers, which is a far cry from the sometimes highly industrial models in their countries.
Nevena, 38 years old, comes back from this trip delighted and full of ideas: “I will put to good use what I have seen in France. We are not certified organic, as we would need to invest massively to comply with the specifications, and there is no State assistance for that. Yet when it comes down to it, we do work as if it were an organic farm. In Bulgaria, it is not easy to share agricultural know-how with other farmers. Those who have been set up for years keep their expertise to themselves”.
For Greenpeace, it is the exact opposite that needs to happen: sharing expertise and techniques to develop eco-friendly agricultureThis is the only farming model that will guarantee the future of our food and our farmers.