As those European airport slumber parties wind down and guests return to the humdrum of sleeping in real beds, taking showers and hopefully changing their socks, the Eyjafjallajökull ash fest is far from over for the farmers living near the base of the hard-to-pronounce-sub-glacial-volcano.
The steaming mad volcano has already flooded farmers with glacial water and then pummelled them with ash. The April 14 initiation has been rough thus far and unfortunately for a group of about twenty farmers, it looks like the hazing has only just begun.
One of those unfortunate farmers, Kristinn Stefánsson from Raufarfell, says that even if the volcano stops spewing ash tomorrow, there is already plenty of it to go around blowing on them all summer, if not longer.
Following the eruption, Stefánsson started making preparations to leave his farm, but his attempt to escape the ash now looks futile. “I have bills to pay,” Stefánsson said. “The banks aren’t going to stop demanding payments because I decided to leave my farm.”
Hundreds of acres of fields have been smothered by the ash and come summer this will cause problems for farmers who won’t be able to make the hay they need to feed their animals during the winter. Stefánsson has already sent 30 cattle to be slaughtered and he plans to continue downsizing as it becomes necessary.
What’s more, Dairy farmer Sigurður Þór Sigurðsson from Önundarhorn estimates it will take one to three years before the fields recover. Until then, it will cost him 1,700 rolls of hay every summer, which he uses to feed his 230 cattle, including 36 dairy cows.
Ólafur Eggertsson, from neighbouring farm, Þorvaldseyri, also expects he will have to decrease the number of cattle and dairy cows on his farm. His 2,500-acre farm is also one of the largest grain suppliers in south Iceland and Eggertsson said he was not sure whether he would be able to harvest this summer.
Eggertsson anticipates that the cleanup effort will continue into the summer. “Fire fighters spent 24 hours cleaning ash from the roofs of my farm, a task that required 150,000 litres of water,” Eggertsson told me. “There were also more than 50 people helping shovel ash from my farm grounds, driving away 500 tons, not including my fields,” he added.
There is also an uncomfortable uncertainty about the eruption. “It’s tough to start clearing the ash from the fields when they could be blanketed again tomorrow, Sigurðsson of Önundarhorn said. “Not to mention the money gone down the drain.”
Operations have been thus far been halted once after the wind direction shifted and farmers were once again sprinkled with ash.
Time to go?
While Eggertsson, who has been farming for 35 years, says he plans to keep farming, other farmers weigh the possibility of leaving their farms considering the uncertainty of the eruption’s course and the difficult of work ahead.
The average farmer in Iceland is 52 years old and the average workweek is 92 hours on a farm with 40 dairy cows, according to the Farmers Association of Iceland. Where they will find the extra hours is beyond me.
Sigurðsson of Önundarhorn was still digesting everything when I stopped by his farm about two weeks after the eruption. He pointed out that the eruption was still quite fresh and it was difficult to predict how long it would last.
It could continue spewing ash for multiple years, and in that case the farmers may have to re-evaluate their situation. But, at the very least, they will take an economic hit and it will probably be time to go for a number of their horses and cattle.
Meanwhile, although Reykjavík and the rest of Iceland haven’t seen a spec of ash, the tourist industry is starting to suffer as presumably misinformed and hysteria-fed travellers are cancelling their trips. So, reporting straight from Reykjavík, I am telling you that the rest of us are still dancing and gas masks and goggles are by no means in fashion.
The farmer pictured above was having a very sad day when we met with him. He had to put down some of his horses due to the ashfall, and was bidding them farewell.
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