It’s been a while since Ramon Carbonell, third generation of a family of livestock farmers from Ribes de Freser, hasn’t had the numbers. The drought has prevented him from doing the transhumance with the cows this year at the steep Cap de Creus, where the cattle grazed freely for half a year until spring arrived and the grass grew again in the mountain meadows. However, this year and for the first time, the few ranchers who remain in the Ribes valley have not moved there with their animals. “In Empordà there is no water or food,” says Carbonell, 60 years old. They also have no food in the Pyrenees, and they also have less and less water. “This year it hasn’t even rained to give water to the lizards and the fountains here are also drying up,” he explains. The cows drink thanks to artisanal wells and feed these days on dry grass (hay), coming from France. “Having to buy grass outside was unthinkable before, now it’s the only solution if we want to feed the animals”, he says. A price that has skyrocketed, and now you pay twice as much. The situation for the sector is so dramatic that some of his colleagues, after seeing themselves almost ruined, have already thrown in the towel and sold a large part of the cabin. “We also had to retire some old cows”, he explains.

If we take out the calculator, we realize that the word ruin on the lips of the primary sector is not an exaggeration. Each bale of 500 kilos of hay, for which Ramon pays 100 euros, is used to feed between 20 and 25 animals just one day. He needs twelve bales a day to feed the 270 organic beef cows he has spread over different farms in the Ripollès mountain. Therefore, every day he spends 1,200 euros just on food. “This is unsustainable, ruinous, it cannot be paid for, let’s see who can overcome this year…”, he laments. And you have to add the diesel for the tractor, the rent for the land where the animals graze, which are not cheap, and the cost of the tractor, about 70,000 euros, which fortunately in his case has already been paid for.

The drought is the final straw for the sector’s resilience. The costs of working on the land, whether due to inflation or the diesel crisis, at the time, and now due to the lack of rainfall, are increasing, while what he perceives for the calves has remained almost unchanged the last four decades. “In the eighties we sold calves for 80,000 pesetas, today they pay us between 500 and 600 euros, at best; we are almost at the same point, while the cost of living has not stopped rising; something goes wrong”, explains the rancher, who, unlike most of his professional colleagues, is guaranteed the generational succession.

His two sons are fully convinced to follow in his footsteps. “I know that the schedule is very demanding, but the job, for me, is much more satisfying than working in a slaughterhouse, where I would be paid much more and have a fixed schedule,” explains the eldest of all the brothers, Arnau , who has studied veterinary science and on Friday was helping his father with about forty calves and pregnant cows that were camping on some land between Ribes de Freser and Campelles. About 25 hectares with a view of the Taga and Balandrau mountains, of inauspicious memory, in a very unusual pattern in the month of February. Not a trace of snow. “If I had to start from scratch, I wouldn’t do it, but I’ve lived this since I was a child and I like it,” explains the young man, who was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt in the middle of winter. Climate change stuff.

The fourth generation of this family of ranchers will continue in the profession despite all the vicissitudes, which are not few. “My grandfather made a better living with 20 cows than we do with 270”, notes the father, Ramon, who will also see this year how the agricultural insurance for which he pays 6,000 euros will not cover his losses . “There is no food left, we have never had such a dry year, but they tell us that they will not pay us anything”, he laments. The problem, according to the agricultural union Unió de Pagesos, lies in the reading of the vegetation levels of the farms by a satellite, which means that the result does not correspond to reality. The cattle farmers are asking the Administration for help so that this situation does not sink the few “heroes” – in the words of Carbonell – who still “dedicate ourselves to the field”. “We’re running out of farmers, and a country without food is a country without a future,” says this 100% vocational rancher, who approaches work as a hobby. “Those of us who are dedicated to agriculture or livestock, if we were dedicated to it for money, there would be no one left, we continue because we have lived this profession all our lives”, argues Carbonell, who predicts that the six years he has left before of being able to retire “will be the hardest and longest of their lives”.

A sector increasingly suffocated also by “excessive paperwork and bureaucracy”. So much so that father and son explain that the rancher for whom things are going best is not necessarily the one with the best product, but rather the one who makes every effort to ask for subsidies. “If you are good with the computer, you have an advantage”, they say. Meanwhile, the sector is losing weight. “40 years ago, there were ten times more farmers in the Ribes valley than there are now; now there are no sheep or milk cows left, and the next ones to disappear will be the meat ones”, laments Ramon. “Those of us who dedicate ourselves to it are older and very few will have continuity”. The future looks bleak.