Still life with thresher

August 2nd, 2010

Agricultural workers are exempt from the fairly strict Sunday work and noise regulations in Switzerland. If the crop is ready to come in, the crop is ready to come in; if the weather is fine for threshing, the weather is fine for threshing; and if somebody is threshing on a Sunday – a Sunday that is also the national day of Switzerland – complaints about it will go unanswered. In the farming village we lived in when I first moved to Switzerland, the people who bought the houses that had been newly constructed on the border of a farm had to sign a covenant stating that they were aware that they were buying a house in an active agricultural zone and they could not complain about the routine necessities of farming life: sheep and/or cow bells, the smell of manure, tractors driving on Sunday, the threshing going at all hours of the day when it’s time to get the wheat in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the owners of the houses that border J’s fields – houses built on farm land my in-laws sold as construction land – had to sign on to something similar.

Wheat is an extremely time-sensitive crop (one of the many things I’ve learned since marrying into a farm family): once the wheat is ripe there is a very short window – a few days – before the grains starts falling. And you need fine weather for threshing. Wet wheat stalks fall over and do not pass easily through the thresher. Wet wheat also brings a lower price if you are able to harvest in the rain. So when the wheat is ready and the weather is fine, it’s time to thresh no matter what day it is.

Which is how my father- and brother-in-law came to be threshing on not just any Sunday, but Sunday August first, which is Switzerland’s national day. Most small family farmers don’t own their own threshers (a combine harvester can run about $250,000) – they hire a thresher, and the farmer who owns the machine does the actual driving. The farmers who own the fields ferry the tractor-trailers into which the grains are emptied back and forth to the barn. So strictly speaking, my brother-in-law was not threshing; N, who owns the combine, was threshing. He let Boychen and Small Boy ride along for a few passes. 

I feel like such a kid when the big farm machines come out. I get as excited by them as the boys do.