My husband stalked into the kitchen, face as black as thunder, brandishing a letter that looked like it had just caused him grievous bodily harm. I recognised the official headed notepaper as the harbinger of news about subsidies, or lack of them.
Subsidies are a necessary evil in agriculture. No farmer wants to run a business based on hand-me-outs, but as the price of produce is so low, the running costs of the farm cannot be covered by sales alone. Subsidies are an unavoidable question of survival, but they are also a vanishing species.
I wondered what this was about, but did not have to ask – he was already in full flow. Last year’s water restrictions had meant that crops had suffered and the farm had produced less hay and cereals. This happened at a time when the price of lamb was low, our apple harvest had brought in zero profits and we took out loans to pay loans.
He had dutifully filled in the declaration forms, which, several months later should bring in the much needed compensation for the drought. The letter that he was now waving violently, like an unarmed man with a white flag, gave a response that obviously did not meet these expectations.
Our losses weren’t high enough he stuttered. We needed to lose 14% of our annual turnover and we were just below. My heart sank as I imagined the several thousands of euros that would now not be invested in the farm.
His eyes, usually placid, were full of bitterness. I knew that before filling in the drought losses form, he had calculated down to the last ton, exactly what had been lost. Honest to the core; he has never shown the same creative tendencies that certain other farmers have when declaring losses. Trying to console him, I muttered something about preferring to be married to an honest pauper than a rich swindler, but I had completely misread his train of thought.
His anger bounced off the walls, directed at the fonctionnaires and bureaucrats who, decreed that we hadn’t lost “enough”. As if from behind their office desks they could have any idea of what “enough” was. He threw the letter onto the table and forcibly averted his eyes, as though the mere sight of it would give him another bout of gastric flu.