Back to the land of childhood. "In my Landes region, breeders are holding firm" by Véronique Badets

Back to the land of childhood. “In my Landes region, breeders are holding firm” by Véronique Badets

My interest in agriculture probably began in the car of my father, a country doctor, when I accompanied him on visits to his peasant patients in the canton of Grenade-sur-l’Adour. Thirty years after leaving this land of breeding, I returned to see what had become of it.

Grenade… This name summons to my mind not the big Andalusian city but the small Landes bastide of 2,500 inhabitants where I grew up, bathed by the Adour and set with fields and woods. Thirty years have passed since I left. What does the canton populated by hundreds of mixed crop and livestock farms of which it was the capital look like today? This evening in May 2024, I start by repeating the bike ride that was dear to me south of Grenade-sur-l’Adour, on the road to Saint-Sever, at the foot of the first hills of Tursan. The caress of the light, the muddy breath of the nearby river, the heady scent of the fragrant vernal grass growing on the sides of the road… childhood is back in a light whirlwind of sensations. A few gleaming hay meadows undulate in the evening breeze. Above all, everywhere I see fields combed with green down: corn sown too late because of the incessant spring rains. King corn, which raises its scepter full of grains in the summer, has reigned supreme here since irrigation became widespread in the 1970s. It is the main food grain for ducks, chickens and cattle raised in the area (the “conso corn” as it is called). “Corn is eternal, there will always be some here,” a breeder told me during this report, when I asked her about water resources and the future of this crop.

Breeder and musician

Fields as far as the eye can see… but where are the cows? Thirty years ago, they were part of the landscape on the banks of the Adour, familiar animals of this land fertile in grains (Granate land in Latin, from which the name Grenada comes). To find them, I leave the river and take the car to enter the Petites Landes which extend to the north, an agricultural landscape dotted with oaks and a few pines. Direction the Peberot farm. I have an appointment with David Biarnès, one of the last two dairy farmers in the community of communes of the Grenadois region (which more or less replaced my old canton). It still had 15 in 2010. His prim’Holsteins join the barn for the evening milking. It is almost 6 p.m., and to the music of Dire Straits, the 49-year-old farmer, cap covering his laughing blue eyes, is busy cleaning the cows’ udders before putting on the liners which automatically collect the milk. “When I set up in 1998, we milked 45 of them,” he remembers. Today, we have 125. The dairies have pushed us to expand. A profitability policy, to make milk collection easier.” But the farmers have also found it beneficial. “Expanding has allowed us to set up three on the farm and to work in shifts to have free time. We have set ourselves fifteen days off per year and two weekends out of three off. It’s much better than in the past: I have never seen my parents take a whole week off. Now, despite milking morning and evening, we try to have a normal life.” So normal that David Biarnès does not want to hang around that evening to rush to a rehearsal of Los Divinos, the banda (brass band from the South-West) who are getting ready to play for the Grenade-sur-l’Adour festivals at the beginning of June. The trumpet after milking: times are changing!

All for the duck

So I found the cows… but where are the ducks? As a child, I used to see them on the farms where I accompanied my father, a country doctor, during his afternoon visits in his white Peugeot 104. In the name of medical confidentiality, there was no question of me going into the houses. While waiting for the end of the consultation, I stayed outside to observe the teeming life where the emblematic web-footed birds of the South-West rubbed shoulders with chickens, cows, guinea fowl and sometimes pigs. Since then, bird flu has passed through, sowing many prophylactic measures in the world of livestock farming.

“Before, we were diversified, we worked like crazy with several species of animals,” recalls without regret Chantal Tachon, 60, a farmer at the Gaube farm, in the commune of Maurrin. But since 2016, we can no longer raise ducks and chickens side by side, to avoid the transmission of epidemics.” She and her husband, Éric, have chosen to refocus on duck: it brings the best added value, thanks in particular to the foie gras produced here using a traditional approach. No corn flour during force-feeding, but grain corn, and a smaller number of ducks than with the “indus”, the foie gras manufacturers – whose sector coexists here, not without some tensions, with that of the “tradis”. At the entrance to the farm, the direct sales store presents the foie gras, rillettes and confits made on site and marketed by the farmer with the help of two employees. As for breeding, it is ensured by Mathieu Darribeau, 33 years old, to whom Chantal and Éric Tachon are happy to have gradually passed on their work tool.

Despite his young age, this native of Grenada has already witnessed a significant change, which is now part of the landscape. “Before, we had ducks outside all the time,” he recalls. “Since the avian flu, we needed buildings to shelter them in case of risk. Either we built them or we had to stop breeding.” The Gaube farm has three semi-open shelters of 1,200 m2, closed by a net. Following a health alert, the animals were still confined there from September 2023 to April 2024. “It’s a lot more work when the ducks are inside. You have to mulch the ground and collect the manure every day,” says the big guy, happy to be back in the open air at the same time as his web-footed birds.

These new constraints do not seem likely to discourage him. He is part of a generation of breeders whose perseverance and taste for “working with the living”, as they confide, I discover with admiration. After hearing about a sibling group driven by the project of “doing as in the past”, I head towards the border between the Grenadois region and Armagnac, to reach the Jouandillon farm in the middle of gentle green valleys. A smell of feathers, droppings and humus mixed together greets me. Incredible: a farmyard scent… “We have 249 laying hens here. Because from 250, we would be obliged to use a grading machine and a candler to comply with breeding standards”, Carole Cadilhon explains to me with a smile. This daughter of a calf breeder under her mother had nevertheless sworn since she was little that she would leave for the city. “I tried office life, but it wasn’t for me. In the end, I had something built there, I need the countryside,” marvels this forty-year-old, pointing to the heights of the family property. Since 2022, with her sister Aurélie (42) and her brother Clément (36), she has represented the third generation of farmers here. Under the oaks and chestnut trees of the family property, 20 black Gascon pigs (“so that the breed doesn’t disappear”), 300 broiler chickens, and around forty cows of various breeds are also raised.

Three highlights for Granada

  • 1979. The first pumping stations in the Adour were built to irrigate the corn grown in the canton of Grenade.
  • 2015. For the first time, an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu has been discovered in a poultry yard in the South-West. To prevent the spread, drastic measures have been taken: preventive culling, confinement, etc.
  • 2020. 149 farms are listed in the Grenada region; there were 687 in 1988.

The taste of contact

“We want to bring back the diversity that our grandparents knew, with local breeds. We want to return to mixed farming and livestock farming, which is disappearing here in favor of specialized farms,” Amélie explains to me, her dark eyes sparkling with joy, as she leads me to the processing workshop where she unveils freshly baked garlic sausage puff pastries. “We sell everything we produce directly at the markets, raw or processed. We love the contact with people, getting their feedback on what we produce.” Their enthusiasm is heartwarming, but won’t they be forced to fall into line with expansion and specialization? “We have confidence in the livestock farming profession,” Aurélie tells me. “We will stick to our small model. The trend in society is moving in that direction. Even if after Covid and the craze for local products, many people have returned to Leclerc. “See you in ten or twenty years, dear breeders of the Grenadian country, in a countryside that I hope is still alive. Where echoes of my childhood will continue to vibrate.

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