THE FARMERS' STORIES
ENZO'S WHEAT, AMONG THE COLOURS OF ATESSA
Enzo Suriani is a young farmer from Atessa, in the province of Chieti in Abruzzo the setting of D'Annunzio's novel, a strong and gentle zone, full of colours, a generous and obstinate zone that produces fabulous wheat. Enzo was born there, among the colours and landscapes and it was there where he learned the art of hard work and to dream from his father.
I believe I hold a world record for working 16 hours per day for 30 years. At times I worked 24 hours. I collected milk, I got up at 5 and returned home at one o'clock, after lunch I worked on farm business. I could have found a job working at the post office or become a civil servant, I had the chance back in the day.
But I never liked it, that wasn't the sort of life I wanted. Enzo works hard, when harvest time comes, he starts at 5 in the morning and stops at midnight. He works hard but he has one big fault: he spends too much. He buys and buys and buys... I help him with the more commercial part and with the bookkeeping, but don't ask me to climb onto the new electronic combine harvester with all those buttons and knobs.
Agriculture has changed and I find it hard to keep up with all these changes. For instance, he's spent a great deal of money for this machine.
Enzo admits it:
I got it 20 days ago. We've almost finished assembling it with optionals. Every day the mechanic comes by and we assemble the various parts. It's taking a long time. Let's hope everything turns out all right, we want to start using it soon.
It's hi-tech. Big, powerful, innovative with a retractable bar for driving on the road, so we won't have the hassle of assembling and disassembling parts. It allows us to travel and work safely.
It's a harvesting machine. It harvests the wheat, separates it, collects the grains of wheat in a container and then puts it onto the lorry that takes it to storehouses.
But Enzo's way is not a fault, quite the opposite. It's the courage of an entrepreneur aware of the times he's living in. A man who knows where he wants to go, aware of the path he has to take for making his dream come true:
One has to keep up with the times. The way farming was done 40 years ago is no longer useful. We have to stand up to competitors, we have to comply with safety regulations, we have to produce more and more and work longer and longer hours. My goal is to keep on growing, doing what's best for my family to ensure they have a future.
My dream is to one day have a farm that is mine and mine alone, have a good size piece of land some time in the future. Earned with hard work, slowly but surely, my reward for my constant work and patience in the fields. Dreams are dreams, no one knows where they'll take you. I don't know where mine will take me, but I hope very far...
Music to the ears of a father who sees in his son the continuation of what he has sown in a lifetime:
Working for myself guarantees control over the yield, without comparing myself to other farmers who tend to do as little as possible. Working hours must be flexible, they cannot be marked by long breaks. There's a time for lunch and a time to take a break, but working hours on a farm depend on what there is to do. Nature doesn't adapt to our rhythm, it's the other way around.
There are days when work is pressing. A normal day begins at 5 in the morning. We start by getting the combine harvester ready before heading out into the fields. We fill up the tank, lubricate the machine, clean it and arrive in the fields at around seven in the morning. At night we return home at eleven or at midnight.
At times it happen that one has to leave early to look after a technical problem in the repair shop, working all through the night to go back to the fields the next morning without getting one hour's rest.
Unknown factors are tied to the weather, you must finish the harvest as quickly as you can. Climatic conditions have a huge impact on farming.
This zone is one of the best for growing durum wheat and soft wheat (over the past 30 years we've changed over to mostly durum wheat). The wheat is fabulous: proteins, quality, quantity and it's because of the clayey soil we have all this. However, this terrain is a taskmaster. One has to work it when it says so, one can't work when it suits him. In our dialect we say "it's a headache". It's as though it were a person. It has its demands and takes it time. It needs to rest and be reinvigorated at the right moment. One has to work on it slowly and carefully. It must be prepared for sowing, then one sows, then make furrows to let it breathe. In short, we do the work we have to do and put all of our efforts into it.
Then there's God who commands 99% of the time: if he feels like it we have a harvest, if not...
But that passion and love go way back, taking shape as a child playing. Enzo knows it and this is why he feels special.
Passion for farming starts when one is young, when one comes home from school and throws the school bag in a corner and goes out into the fields rather than do homework. When I was six I used to plough with the track layer, I was foolhardy.
To be a farmer you have to have it in your blood, otherwise you can't become one. It takes commitment and passion, without these qualities you'll go bankrupt. I like being a farmer, if only for these colours: from the dry ground after ploughing with the bare black earth, up until March when nature reawakens, to the golden yellow when the wheat is ready in June.
It's as though the cycle has been completed and I always feel a little sad. Then another cycle begins. My dream is coming true slowly. As a little boy driving the tractor was playing, it was a way for feeling like a grown up. Today it's my job, the best job in the world.
And it's not such a tiresome job as it used to be, but in some ways it's more complicated because progress always comes at a price:
By using machines and with innovation we manage to do the work with less physical effort. On the other hand, the investments required are huge and one must work at a faster and faster pace to be able to recover them. Wheat farming is not tiresome but one has to make investments.
In August ploughing begins and then we have expenses for upkeep of the machines, petrol, we have to ensure that these charges are proportional to the time it takes to complete tasks. Powerful machines and many acres to cover every day. Afterwards we have to get the sowing bed ready with compost, then sow the seeds, followed by a good fertilizer containing nitrogen, weeding with specific products, then fungicide, then another fertiliser treatment, at times another fungicide treatment is necessary and the prices are rather conspicuous.
At times a year is not enough to recover the investment.
There is the other side of the coin. There is poetry that makes it all worthwhile for someone like Enzo who has that passion and love that isn't about figures at all:
My greatest satisfaction is thinking that my wheat stays in Italy and is eaten by Italians. This is why I like the Grano Armando Project. It's quite different than eating pasta produced with wheat that comes from abroad.
When Enzo talks about the Armando Deal his eyes twinkle, he feels he's a part of this adventure.
Last year we produced 42 quintals per hectare, which is really a huge amount. I'm satisfied. Considering that we have clayey and saline soil for me it's a great accomplishment. Thank heavens the wheat has the maximum percentage of proteins. I hope the project is expanded further.
Having a price that only depends on the market does not guarantee that we'll recover the necessary investment and produce very good quality wheat. On the other hand, with the supply chain agreement we can be sure of the guaranteed minimum price that is a big help. Sure, if we don't have the right quantity it certainly isn't the fault of Armando or the supply chain agreement. What's more, if we obtain an exceptional quality we get bonuses. The future of farming lies in supply chain agreements.
The Armando Agreement is much more than a business deal. It is the sharing of a certain vision of the future by those who live off of wheat. By signing it, the producer, farmers and agronomists commit to producing high quality raw material, sealing an authentic tie existing between the ground, wheat and pasta.DISCOVER THE FARMERS