Erwin, the milk producer The story behind milk, by Sebastien Nunes

Adding a milk pack to the caddy at the supermarket is very easy, but what does it take to produce that milk? What’s it like for a small producer to manage a farm with 40-50 cows? After the demonstration of milk producers in Brussels, I was quite shocked when realising that people who work to produce our daily food don’t even get a decent revenue for their work. So I decided to follow a producer during one day to get a glimpse of how it really work.

Somewhere in the East Cantons of Belgium, I meet Erwin at 7am in July 2016:

It’s a bit chilly this morning but the sun will soon transform it to a hot summer day. Erwin gathers his cows in the grassland, he’s among the last producers to leave his cows in the grasslands and to do the milking there during summer time.

The price of the milk is so low that Erwin only does one milking per day instead of two.

The day before my visit, the European Commissions announced an additional aid of 500 millions euros for milk producers. But milk producers don’t want that money. They’re asking for structural solutions to solve the problems related to overproduction in Europe. Until now their request to restore production quotas remains ignored.

Milking the 40 cows takes two hours. After that Erwin goes back to the farm to store the milk, feed the calves and take a short break at home.

He’s a member of Fairebel (Die Faire Milch in German) which guarantees fair prices for the producer and works on a long term vision on agriculture. They’re making big efforts to increase Faire Milch products in the supermarkets and to offer various milk-based products.

Erwin’ son is a butcher and they want to open a farm’s butcher shop. Erwin has started breeding a different species of cows for the meat. They will open the farm shop before the winter and they hope to have regular revenues from the butcher shop.

At the end of week is the opening of a big agriculture show in Belgium the “Foire agricole de Libramont” with lot of politic attention. Erwin is member of the MIG (Milcherzeuger Interessengemeinschaft – Milk producer interests) team and they announced actions at the opening of the show. As he’s well known he’s getting many phone calls during the whole day from the Police and many journalists trying to find out what kind of actions they’ll do at the show opening.

Around 11am the sun is high and it’s already very hot. Perfect weather for haying and prepare the winter. Erwin will spend the rest of the day going from one grassland to another to hay.

One of his tractor broke down the day before and he hired another farmer from the area to help out with the haying. His old tractor is not enough to hay all the grasslands around.

That’s about the day of a milk producer. With 365 days of work per year, Erwin can’t imagine his life differently. But he also has a family to feed.

About Sebastien Nunes:

Sébastien Nunes is a commercial and editorial photographer specialized in automotive and motorsport photography. He likes pictures that tell a story, those that don’t show everything, the ones that have their place in a series of pictures. He is based in Brussels and loves to travel. Link: http://stories.sebastiennunes.com/
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