Jean and I usually arrived home at odd times and regular evening meals were out of the question. But, with Jean needing to work the same hours as his clients, us farmers, we invariably were up at the same hour and had breakfast together. I used to have tea with my breakfast, but Jean hated it, so I got in the habit of making strong coffee to kick off the day. Sometimes, we’d talk through the day ahead and sometimes there wasn’t much to discuss.

One morning in mid-February, I was once more looking over my finances and muttering to myself about the cost of the local fields and how hard it was to get together the cash I needed to buy one. Talking to myself helps rationalise my thoughts. The thought-train was interrupted when Jean coughed to attract my attention. “You’ve been playing with those figures for the past week…” “I’m just wondering how I can expand the farm – doesn’t feel like I’m getting anywhere at the moment.” “Have you thought of looking at the fields along the road just down from my shop?” Jean asked, “There are several near Xavier’s field that might be available for less money than the fields up this side of the valley.” I must admit that the idea of having another field so far from the farm hadn’t occurred to me and I knew that in Mark’s time hands would have been raised in horror at the idea. I did raise mild concerns but, as Jean reminded me, all the farmers had plots of land dotted all over the area – no one had all their fields in one place!

I took up Jean’s idea, having not much work on that morning. I drove down to Xavier’s field and was pleased to find him at work. When he’d finished a row of cultivating, he shut down the tractor and I went over to have a quick chat. He told me about the fields either side of his – “That one belongs to Maurice – he’s not likely to sell. The one on the left… That belongs to Alexis – she might be willing to sell… I don’t see a lot of her.” I looked at Maurice’s field anyway – it was well kept and looked like a crop had been sown. I would check on its estimated value. Then I looked at the other field. It had been dusted with lime, though whether the amount was enough for the soil I couldn’t tell. What struck me was the boulders scattered all over the ground. It was a mess and that got me thinking – maybe Alexis doesn’t really need this field and would be willing to sell? I set off to hunt down Claude to find out more.

Things happened pretty quickly – the field was available to buy, and the price was within my available budget after some vigorous negotiation. With a bank payment agreed, I was given permission to access the field and begin working it on 18th Feb with the deeds to follow soon after. The first job was to get rid of the rocks – Jean hired me a stone-picker…

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…It was a pain to use but I cleared all the boulders. I finished February by applying more lime to get the field’s ph right. Then, in the first week of March, it was time to set about sowing a crop – I decided on Oats for a quick return. Jean bent our rules slightly by bringing down the Massey with the roller attached on his way to work – I promised to drop past with his van later when the sowing was done. It was unusual to see both of my tractors out and about at the same time…

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That was the end of winter on the farm. Spring brought some good times – several fertilizing jobs earned me the money to buy a trailer and to repay the extra €15k that I had loaned 🙂

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…That’ll reduce the outgoings. But I still don’t have my own harvester and I think I may have to continue hiring for the foreseeable future 😦

By the beginning of April, the Oats in the new field were ready for a dash of fertilizer…

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…And by the middle of May, the Canola on my home field was in bloom…

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…Things are looking up and, with luck, both fields will be ready to harvest at the same time – That will save on the Harvester hire costs! It’s been a busy Spring on Ferme du Vieux Chêne 🙂

Early February in the 2nd year of the farm seems an opportune time to look at the finances and see what they tell us about the difficulties the player will experience when in ‘Start from Scratch’ difficulty mode. The finance screen is a bit of a pain as it can’t be easily covered in just 1 or 2 screenshots – it’s just too long and the summary stays at the bottom as you scroll up or down. Let’s start at the top (You may need to have the screenshots open in a new page to see clearly what I’m talking about)…

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…The first row details the cash I’ve spent on new vehicles. It includes all types of farming implement, so what you see there is the money spent on the equipment to allow me to manage the grass field and do grass work for other farmers. That’s a long-term investment that will probably be recouped over three years or so. The €1k in December was two carrying crates for Chickens. You can see (4th row) I started selling Chickens that month to increase the amount of cash I was earning from them.

Vehicle Running Costs (9th row) – normally one of the biggest outgoings on the on the farm and one that is unavoidable. December saw the last regular use of the tractors and also the end of season maintenance of the grass machines. In Jan/Feb the only real activity was moving eggs and vegetables to market and that was all done with the Kubota runabout. Property maintenance (11th row) is another consistent outgoing – it will be much the same at the end of Feb as it was at the end of Jan.

Property Income (12th row). This is a combination of money generated by the solar panels I have dotted around the farm – note that it fluctuates with the time of year – and the Municipal Subsidy I receive. The Subsidy is a regular €8400 each month. Some players call the Subsidy mod a ‘cheat’ and I would agree in the case of the ‘Government’ subsidy which gives you €8.4m per month. That has its place for players like content creators who need to be able to get equipment quickly for their demo videos and the like. The Municipal Subsidy is an attempt to recreate the realistic subsidy situation for farmers in the EU and US, so I believe its use in my gameplay to be legitimate. These sources of income are helping to keep my head above water in difficult times.

The last row, Production Costs, is the maintenance of the two large greenhouses. Now, let’s scroll down a bit…

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…I haven’t chopped down any trees, so nothing in the top row 🙂

Sold Bales (2nd row) should speak for itself but there is a hidden element to the values shown. Every field has an estimated output for each crop and when your harvest reaches that threshold, any additional crop is paid to the harvester. When I mow and bale grass, hay or silage for one of my neighbours, there are usually quite a few more bales than expected. The same applies to Cotton. That explains the large amount of money I made in October and November – this payment is over and above the base payment for the contract.

Sold Products (5th row) – this is the money made from Tomatoes, Lettuce and Eggs.

Fuel costs (6th row) – varies according to the amount of work done and what machinery was used. In Jan/Feb only the Kubota runabout was used so the costs were low.

Fertilizer Costs (8th row) – When fertilizing my own fields and doing contract fertilizing for other farmers, I have to supply the fertilizer. Fortunately, fertilizer goes a long way! I have the precision farming Isaria equipment fitted to my Massey Ferguson 5S, which reduces the amount of fertilizer applied on my own fields too.

Harvest Income (11th row) – Money earned from harvests on my own farm and any harvested crop left over from contract harvests, much the same as with bales. This was the excess from a late crop of Soya harvested under contract.

Contract Income (13th row) – The most important form of income for my farm currently. Unfortunately, also the least reliable! The old saying ‘Make Hay while the Sun shines’ holds true – If there’s a contract available, I have to take it. I think, in this hardest level of play, the yearly field cycle of sowing, fertilizing, harvesting and lying fallow is most accurately portrayed. The field work shuts down completely over winter and we are left relying on the produce and the subsidy to see us through until the spring. Of course, if I were to turn seasons off… 😉

Time to scroll down and look at the last rows of the spreadsheet…

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…If you look down near the bottom, you’ll see a row called wage payment – all zeros because I can’t afford to hire farm workers!

One above bottom and we have Misc – Income from environmental bonuses appears here. But it is also where expenses not covered by the other categories appear. These include animal feed, lime and herbicide.

The last row is interest repayments on the loan – we currently owe the bank €215k and should probably find a way to start reducing that amount to cut back on our outgoings.

The summary at the bottom tells that in early February I currently have a balance of €84k in the bank. Not enough to get a harvester or any of the fields close to the farm. I need to keep working and building that balance to get the things I want for the farm but, there will be choices to be made along the way – expect those to be part of the ongoing story of Ferme du Vieux Chêne 🙂

Mid-November was busy – the jobs kept coming and I was out in the fields late almost every night. Most of the time I was driving other farmers gear but, occasionally it was our own. The money we were making allowed us to buy a bale wrapper after which I was able to do a silage job for Jean Cuvier with our own equipment. That earned us some good money but as I was driving the Fiat down to the animal dealership, I noticed a bit of a cough from the exhaust.

The cough continued the next day and I was concerned. It wasn’t like the Tractor had flu or anything… It was just a muted sound from the exhaust that didn’t sound right. That evening I decided to check the manuals to see if it was something that I could fix. Then I hit a snag. I searched through the internet looking for the Fiat 1300DT super and found it. But it was just a 150HP tractor with no mention of turbocharging or 185HP! I was baffled and I spent quite a lot of time searching that would probably have been better spent out in the fields. In the end I gave up and rang Jean. “Bring it down tomorrow evening and I’ll take a look – It’s probably nothing serious.”

Late afternoon the following day, after doing what I could to clear off the workload, I drove down to Armand Moteurs. Jean was waiting with a small toolbox in hand, the last of the normal customers having left for the day. I stood around looking guilty of breaking something while he delved away in the engine. Then he stood up and asked me to fire it up… It purred – if a loud growl can be considered a purr. What I mean is it sounded wonderful again. “Come into the office” said Jean “and I’ll show you why you couldn’t find the right manual.”

The Office was cosy – not too brightly lit and the blinds were down to keep out the chill of autumn. Jean motioned for me to take a seat at a table and produced a set of folders. The first I recognised immediately – “That’s the Fiat manual I found!” Then Jean started talking me through things – “This is for the 150HP 1300DT Super” he said. What you were missing were these…” He produced a couple more folders with manuals inside. they weren’t Fiat manuals at all. “These are the manuals that go with an after-market upgrade which is what you have. This is the Turbo manual and this other one is for the intercooler. They will boost the engine power up to somewhere between 175HP and 180HP. The rest is down to tuning. When it started coughing; that was because the tuning was a little out!”

Then Jean started telling me a lot more about tractors, engines and more specifically our Fiat. As we sat there and I listened to him talking, I found myself staring deeply into his eyes and suddenly realised that we were holding hands. He was looking into my eyes too and it felt right… We stood as one and hugged, then Jean stepped across to the door to lock it before guiding me back to behind his desk where I was surprised to find a bed. Sinking onto the bed together and making love was only natural. This time it felt much more than the sweaty evening in September – this time I knew I had found someone with whom I could share my life…

I left the dealership very late that night and drove the tractor back to the farm. I now knew that I couldn’t sweep this under the rug – I would have to talk honestly to Mark. This was no longer a fling and had probably gone beyond being an affair too. I really didn’t know what I would tell him or how I could explain things. Whatever, I would have to bite the bullet and talk to Mark in the morning or…

Of course, I couldn’t talk to Mark about it in the morning. In fact, I ducked the issue the next day too. It was only on the third day that I finally arranged my life to sit down with Mark over dinner and talk. I told him everything; how it started by chance and how it was now something I no longer had control over. He looked at me through moist eyes as I spoke. I was waiting for the angry outburst, but it didn’t come. Mark just looked very sad, and I felt worse than if he’d berated me. Then he started to tell me his side of the story…

“I’ve not been happy here for some months. You’re out in the fields all day and we never seem to spend time with each other. I’m so lonely here, some days I never see anyone. I thought that we would be running a gite with guests but here we are with a farm. I miss our old life too… I was going to ask you if I could go back to London over Christmas and the New Year – I wanted to meet some of our old friends. Have a good time once more…”

He was crying now and so was I. I was trying to recall when we’d last had some quality time together and some fun and I realised that it was probably during the previous Christmas when Mark had built snowmen. Since then, it had been nothing but work, day in-day out except for the first anniversary of the farm meal – and that had been engineered by Monsieur Gerard otherwise it probably would have passed us by. It dawned on me that where I had been able to adapt to the change of lifestyle, Mark could not – He had always been the party animal, engaging everyone in conversation while I stood quietly by. There was more quiet tearful conversation and then we went up to bed where we hugged each other to sleep.

The next morning, we talked long over breakfast. Mark had decided to return to London. “Will you be back?” “I don’t think so” he said. All that was left was for Mark to book his train journey. We decided to make as clean a break as possible immediately, so I moved my things into the spare room to give him the space he needed until his departure. Four days later, the cab turned up early in the morning to take Mark to the station. I bade him farewell and safe journey, a stiff handshake sealing the moment. I was left on my own to ponder…

I made sileage from our field – strange how I was still thinking ‘our’ when Mark was gone! Then the snows came and the work dried up on the surrounding farms…

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…I settled into quietly looking after the chickens and the greenhouses. I had the time now, but it was time alone…

This lengthy story post fits in with a very quiet period in game. I know where the farm will be developing in the future and the story is going to take us there. What started as a simple story of farm life has gone through a sordid period. There is still a little more to this chapter, which I will tell in the next post from Ferme du Vieux Chêne.