Tuesday, October 3

Extremadura teaches how to work the fields with the ‘agrarian Erasmus’

Pere Farran has covered seven hundred and twenty kilometers to travel from Catalonia to Extremadura to broaden his knowledge. Specifically, to take note of how they take care of the field in Valdepajares de Tajo (
Dehesa experience), the host farm in the ‘agrarian Erasmus’ region, that is, the Cultiva Program of training stays for young farmers from model farms, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with organizations and other agricultural groups, in this case concrete through UPA-UCE.

“Here I am getting to know a totally different work system than the one we apply in Catalonia,” says Farran (32 years old), who works part-time in an electromechanical workshop and the rest of the time on the family farm. His farm is in Ivorra (Lérida, 110 inhabitants), and on it he cares for 150 calves and cereal and legume plantations in an ecological regime.

“I am interested in improving the soil and diversifying a bit,” says the young Catalan, who claims to have learned techniques that he will try to put into practice on the property he manages with his parents. He has separated from them and his girlfriend for a few days, to cross the country and live a new experience in Peraleda de la Mata.

In this Cáceres town near Navalmoral de la Mata is Valdepajares de Tajo, which is not just any farm. Its owner is Princess Nora of Liechtenstein (Switzerland, 1950), who began her relationship with Extremadura after marrying Vicente Sartorius y Cabeza de la Vaca, Marquis of Mariño, in 1988. The property has 280 hectares and is the only one in the region declared a Private Area of ​​ecological interest, a label that the Board grants “to those natural areas with a singular interest from the ecological or landscape point of view.” The distinction implies joining the network of protected areas of Extremadura.

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Example of a dehesa in Extremadura

The farm, which is accessed from the CC-054 road, is an example of conservation and improvement of the dehesa, and since last Monday it has been the classroom not only of Pere Farran, but also of Raúl García Mendoza. She is 41 years old, has an 18-month-old daughter, lives in Colmenar Viejo (Madrid, 52,480 inhabitants), and although she began studying Geology, she did not finish her degree. After chaining temporary contracts as a clerk at Leroy Merlin, a telemarketer and in Iberia, she established herself a year and a half ago as an extensive cattle rancher.

«In my family farm we do things as they have always been done, and I look for new techniques»

raul garcia mendoza

Farmer from Colmenar Viejo (Madrid)

«I am getting to know a totally different work system than the one we have in Catalonia»

pere farran

Farmer and rancher from Ivorra (Lérida)

“The farm has belonged to our family since before my grandparents,” says García Mendoza. “I did not expect to dedicate myself to the field, but in the end it is what has given me the most job stability,” says García, who has 106 animals on his farm, the mostly cows. The last calf was born last Thursday.

“On the family farm, we do things as they have been done all our lives, in the most traditional way, and I wanted to train and learn new techniques,” says the Madrid farmer, who has been as an ‘agrarian Erasmus’ in Galicia and Cantabria and who says he is taking “a lot of advantage” of these days in Extremadura. “The traditional way of working that we apply on our farm – he continues – generates profitability, but you always think that something is missing, that you can advance in the project, doing things that allow you to reduce the workload or increase productivity”.

Modern farming and ranching

That is why he signed up for this initiative, whose teachers are Francisco Rodríguez, an agricultural engineer; Pablo López, technician in natural resource management; and Carmen Perona, with a degree in Environmental Sciences. The latter explains that “they learn about Ecology, Botany, Edaphology, Ethology and Veterinary Medicine”.

“The concepts that the teacher teaches us in class, on the blackboard, then we go out to the field to check them ‘in situ'”, explains Raúl García, who when he returns home will do “my own tests based on what I have learned these days”, forward. “On this farm in Extremadura,” says the farmer from Colmenar Viejo, “they have done a lot of work to recover the dehesa, and I would like to do something similar on our farm, to improve pasture production and livestock management.”

«They learn about Ecology, Botany, Edaphology, Ethology and Veterinary Medicine»

carmen perona

Graduated in Environmental Sciences, she works at Vivencia Dehesa

The need to explore new paths is particularly advisable in a situation such as the current one, marked by the succession of events that are detrimental to farm workers. “I started in the farm in 2019 –says Pere Farran–, and between the pandemic and the war, it is not being easy.” “Everything is very expensive: diesel, seeds,” laments the Catalan, who at least does not have to spend on fertilizers because his exploitation follows the guidelines of organic farming, using the manure generated by the farm.

Participation in the program should not incur any expense for him and his classmate. They have slept in the hostel of a nearby service area, and eaten in it or in another also close to the farm. When the experience ends, they will justify the expenses of transport, stay and maintenance and will pay them. This is how the ‘agrarian Erasmus’ works, which celebrates its second edition this year.

“The program has a vocation to remain in time,” explains UPA-UCE, which is congratulated because the initiative “was born in the worst of the pandemic and with a fair budget, but it achieved a very good reception.” “In this second edition they have increased the budget – which is one million euros – and the number of participants”. The specific agrarian organization that has managed almost thirty training experiences, two of them with Extremadura as a destination. According to UPA-UCE in the autonomous community, “the main objective of this initiative is to promote a generational change that is gradually gaining weight again thanks to initiatives like this one.”


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