18 September 1998

Sheep, aid and

forestry keep a

valley farm alive

The Rudis are Norwegian valley farmers. In Britain they

would be called hill farmers. Sheep pay the farms running

costs. The government provides living costs and forestry

produces extra income. Tessa Gates reports

THE lightly fried trout tasted like only wild trout can and Ola and Kari Rudi had plenty to serve to the guests visiting their farm at Uudal. The fish had been caught by their sons, Knut and Ola junior.

"Boys under 16 can fish anywhere here without a licence, and of course their father sometimes has to stand alongside them," jokes Ola, who is obviously proud of his sons who are 15 and 17, and of his 18-year-old daughter, Gro.

The fish had been caught while the family had spent a week tending sheep grazing summer pasture high in the mountains. There, on Europes largest plateau, where the lakes and rivers make the fences, sheep from seven farms in the area graze until September, with the farmers taking turns to watch that they dont stray onto sections allotted to stock from other areas.

"It is an eight-hour walk to the summer pasture and we spend a week or two at a time up there," explains Ola. "There are two cabins stocked with food and one has a mobile phone."

Ola is one of Norways valley farmers – in Britain we would call him a hill farmer – and 100 ewes is the usual number kept on the small farms that dot the mountainside.

"I have had 250 in the winter but had to quit because it was so difficult to rent land for them. They are housed in winter but in spring you like to have sheep out where you wont be cutting grass and that area determines how many you have," explains Ola who farms 13ha (32 acres) and has 100ha (247 acres) of forest.

The land has been farmed by his mothers family for many generations and the couples daughter, as the first-born child, will inherit the right to farm, although at present her sights are set on becoming a model. Ola took over the farm in 1985. "Then I was getting 45Kr/kilo for sheep meat, now it is 33Kr/kilo," says Ola who sends sheep to slaughter at 45 kilos.

He knows the price he will get before he even brings his sheep down from pasture and will receive an extra Kr if he gives the slaughterhouse a months notice of when the sheep will be brought in.

"The sheep are paying for the farm to run but there is no income for living. The government pays for living costs but farmers want higher prices for produce, not the other way round. In Norway people spend 13.5% of income on food and they think it is expensive but compared with incomes, it is not."

&#42 Bigger than average

Olas farm is a little bigger than average in the district, where the common land measure is the decahectare (one tenth of a hectare). Back in 1973 his father could live entirely off the farm. "Most farmers could then, now only five in this area can," he says. "We get a good price per hour for work on the farm but the farm is too small."

Forestry work provides additional income and Ola has a big machine that strips the trees of branches and then logs the trunks to a pre-set size. It is computerised to get as much quality timber as possible from a tree and this brings premium prices for the timber – an important consideration in an industry where prices have remained static for 20 years.

"The machine is 10 years old but was very advanced in 88, and it will last another 10 years. A new one would cost 3mKr," says Ola, who uses it in his own forest and for others.

"In the summer there is not so much to do in the forest, so I bought a round baler and wrapper and work with a neighbour, contracting on other farms. We did 3500 bales last year," he says.

The terrain adds an edge to the job. "When we open up the bale goes out and down, so we have lots of excitement. Fences have been flattened but luckily not a car or house," he laughs, adding that 10 runaway bales is the record.

&#42 Traditional dish

In September, when the sheep come down from the high pasture, it is the time for Norwegians to indulge in a traditional dish. "Everyone buys lamb to make a big stew full of vegetables and peppers. It lasts about four days and gets better and better," says Kari, who helps on the farm and works part-time caring for a disabled girl.