Another great adventure completed. Every two years the Kruse family meets the Schutte family from Dresden, Germany somewhere in the world to share a few days of vacation.
This last week was the eighth such adventure originating from the high school foreign exchange days of the families’ older sons. The two families take turns picking destinations and this time the Schuttes chose Denmark.
As my wife’s father is of Danish origin, this trip evolved into a historical search and homecoming to the Christensen farm near Svendborg on the Island of Fyn. In order to break up the flight for her father, we spent three days touring Iceland out of Reykjavik. Our English-speaking Icelandic tour guide was a farm boy of Norwegian decent.
His farm in northern Iceland has been in his family for 400 years. We thought we had something with our Iowa Century Farm. His father tends a flock of 800 sheep. He said Icelandic tradition favors balance. He was not opposed to GMOs, but supports Europe’s opposition to hormone-use in livestock production.
Livestock production in Iceland consists of three primary species – dairy, lamb and horse. Our guide, Christian, highly recommended the horse steak telling us that horses are grown in Iceland specifically as a meat animal and that horse steak was his favorite.
The menu of a restaurant he recommended featured four primary entrees – lobster, lamb, horse and whale. Christian recommended the whale although he preferred horse. He said that Iceland harvested a limited amount of whales and that the whale population could stand a significantly higher rate of harvesting. He said Iceland had to use every resource available. We passed on the horse and whale staying with the lobster and lamb.
Christian added that he believed Iceland’s fishing fleet made Alaska’s look like wusses. He said that Alaska’s crab fishermen and boats couldn’t stand up to the challenge of Icelandic fishing. He spent four years on the boats and was not impressed by the “Deadliest Catch” reality program.
Iceland is a beauty of geysers, glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes. Iceland, however, despite four glaciers, is not ice covered. Eric the Red settled Iceland finding it green and didn’t want too many intruders so named it Iceland to deter them.
When banished later to Greenland, he named that island Greenland although it was covered in ice to encourage settlement there. All is politics.
Christian’s farm connection and relationship with one of the island’s most progressive farmers allowed us a special visit with the Helgason family. They have a gorgeous dairy farm on the east coast at the base of the volcano that erupted in 2010.
Christian introduced us as a farm family to the Helgasons and we spend over an hour touring their dairy and milking barns as they related their experience’s saving their farm from the impact of the eruption that had occurred directly over them.
At first all they could do was bring the livestock inside and leave them four days of feed before they temporarily evacuated the premises. Their farm is located at the base of a glacier that is over a volcano. When it erupted in 2010, it disrupted flight travel over much of Europe.
The farm is independent. Its hot water is geothermal; its electricity was generated from glacial runoff. Its tractors ran on biodiesel from rapeseed grown on-farm.But their dairy is dependent on imported corn and soy so feed cost increases here will travel to Iceland, too. The farm produces hay, rapeseed, wheat and corn. They have 2,000 hectors, but only a fourth of that is back in production.
The dairy herd and the beautiful farmstead were back in operation after the removal of hundreds of tons of ash. The family is multi-generational farmers.
One of the problems from the eruption was that a portion of the glacier melted causing flooding, isolating the farm as bridges were swept away.
They said that they were able to recover financially with the help of the Icelandic government which came to their aid covering half the cost of clean-up and the increased revenue that a souvenir shop opened on the highway in front of their farm generated.
The family had filmed much of what had happened during the eruption producing some spectacular footage turning it into a documentary seen by 50,000 people for $5 each plus the souvenirs they bought.
They were amazed at their ability to sell ash to the tourists. We bought some, too.
One of the ironies was the collection of old farm tractors they had restored from the 1950-60s. He was currently restoring a 1973 IHC Hydro 100. I have a 1974 IHC Hydro 100, the only tractor left that I own.
They are a remarkable farm family and we appreciated the special opportunity to meet them.
When I think of some of the challenges that we face I will remind myself that I have never had to endure a volcanic eruption and glacial flood in Iowa.
Next stop Denmark.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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