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 🙂

The work for other farmers collapsed in December with all the harvesting done for the year and most fields either lying fallow or ready-sown with the next year’s crop. I knuckled down to looking after the production side of the farm. I was looking closely at the finances and although I was making a profit from the market garden work and from feeding energy back to the grid, I could see that there was little real income from the chickens. I decided to give them another summer to show a good profit – otherwise they would be going to the animal dealer and I’d be re-purposing that land. With Mark gone I had no need to salve his desire for ‘pets’.

I wanted to see more of Jean and had the perfect excuse with all the grass machinery in need of maintenance. Each visit to the workshop allowed time for getting to know each other better. In mid-December Jean suggested that we go for a meal in town. I agreed and we had a pleasant dinner in Les Quatre Saisons – The waiter kept giving us odd looks and I noted that we were the only single-sex table present that evening. Nothing was said though and we had a good time together. On another occasion we had lunch in the local bistro where we bumped into Claude Gerard as he was leaving. He smiled and greeted us but, again, no questions were asked. Even so, I guessed that there must be talk among the farming community, at least about Mark’s absence.

The question was finally asked when I met Jean Cuvier at the farmers market just before Christmas – “How’s Mark,” he asked, “I haven’t seen him recently.” I had to explain that Mark had gone back to London and that we were no longer a couple. Monsieur Cuvier was sympathetic and invited me to Christmas Day dinner with him and his Wife, which I gratefully accepted.

After Christmas, I hooked up with Jean Armand again and we went to lunch once more. I may not have tried out the bed in Jean’s office since that time in November, but I did find out how it came to be there. Not, as I had suspected, a pre-planned tool for an act of seduction. Jean’s landlord had put up the rent and Jean had decided it was too much. He’d moved out and had been sleeping in his office for just two days when I came along with my tractor problem. Jean admitted it had been too good a chance to miss. I asked him if he was still without lodgings. When he said yes, it seemed only natural to invite him to live at the farm – “Why don’t you move in with me? I have a spare room.” He seemed a little unsure, but I talked him around over a post lunch glass of wine.

Jean moved in on January 3rd. He dumped his gear in the spare room, but he slept with me that night. In the morning, after we had showered, we sat down over breakfast to lay down some ground rules. Our businesses and finances had to be kept completely separate – neither could subsidise the other. There would be no cheap rates for maintenance. Jean was concerned about what the local farmers would think of his coming out. “They weren’t worried about me in the past.” I said, “Why should that change now?” “I’m just worried that they may take their business elsewhere.” said Jean.

Our relationship settled into some sort of normality with our mutual long hours not causing any friction between us. We were often seen together, and there were a few nods and winks, but we were accepted as a couple quite quickly. Jean’s fears of lost business never materialised – once Monsieur Cuvier came to know of our liaison, he signalled his approval and that seemed to set the tone amongst the other farmers.

I continued working hard at getting the best out of the chickens and greenhouses. The bank balance was slowly growing but as I looked around, I still couldn’t see where I’d get the cash I needed to buy another field or the two items of equipment that I was missing, a large trailer and a harvester…

The tale has rather taken over from a standard gameplay series over the last few posts. Now we’ve found our way through the ‘love interest’ section, I think I can continue the story in a more traditional play through manner. But the next post will show the real in-game finances of Ferme du Vieux Chêne at the start of February of the second year and I’ll try to explain them! Thanks for your patience 🙂