"Berlare was a sand dune, and so was the way from Berlare to Zele"

This leads us to POINT 2 of our notes wetness in the grasslands. To go to all our notes on wetness follow the arrow. 

When I inquire over the drought, or over where the driest areas are located, soil composition and type comes up all the time in conversation with farmers.

“We have land that is drier here. The arable soil is about 25 cm, and then there is clay underneath it. So either the water stays above the clay and then you cannot go on the land because you sink into the clay, or the water stay below the clay and there is no water coming up”. (Farmer, December 2022)

It seems obvious, but they are very aware of which areas are drier and wetter, and aware of which neighbouring farmer has drier or wetter grounds, contrasting other farmer’s to their own to explain to me the different. Many explain to me the local geology, sometimes referring to this regions’ prehistoric past, before the contemporary Scheldt.

“The area that is located inside the old meander is another type of ground, with more silt deposits, whilst the ground that is located on the outer part of the old meander is more sand and is drier. Well … dry is another question than structure. Its about whether it dries out faster because of its grain structure. So the grain structure over there [inside the old meander] is finer and dries out less quickly, like clay for example. This is different from the beach where water slips through more easily. And this has to do with the past, as you have here silt deposits, and here you have matter that has flown into the area, which made it higher and also formed river dunes against Gratiebossen. But on the other side it is wetter, the wetter plots are here” (Another farmer, may 2022)

The ground type may change quite suddenly, which will have an impact on the capacity of that ground to retain moisture. Farmers are very aware of these contrasts, amongst others by noticing how their crops are doing.

“So next to the path, the ground is a lot better and then that changes in the upper part of the plot. During the drought years, you could see a difference in colour. So at the top you could see the winter barley getting dry, whilst at the bottom is was fine. That is because that part of the plot holds the humidity better and that probably has to do with the underground of the plot, so it has to do with the height but also with the texture of the soil. It may also have to do with the upper layer of the soil” (L, a farmer, may 2022).

For R., farmer's union representative for the area, this simultaneity of wet and dry within a small area represents a challenge quite specific to the area.

“A challenge around here is that we also have the sandy soils here, which are quite dry. Maybe you’ve seen how it’s quite dry around L’s farm? There, now, it’s too dry already. But then if you go a bit further down to the Scheldt, it’s too wet. So maybe that's also a difficulty: to find a balance between the dry sandy soils and then the wet clay soils, heavy soils, which are quite different. And you must find a balance to find a constant production on your farm” (May 2022). 

To find other leads that can help us understand the drought and observe wetness in the dairy grasslands, click here!