The number of farms in Switzerland may be dropping, but the organic sector seems to be bucking the trend. One farm in nine is now growing produce without chemicals, according to statistics published on Tuesday.
The Federal Statistical Office said that overall in 2014 there were just over 54,000 farming operations in 2014, down 2.1% on 2013. The total surface area devoted to agriculture was stable at around one million hectares.
“Although the number of agricultural businesses in total has dipped, the number of organic farms continues to rise (+2.4%),” the statistical office said in a statement. “In 2014, 6,195 farms opted for organic production. This is the equivalent of 11.5% of all farming operations.”
Chantal Guggenbühl, scientific staff member at the statistical office, said the rise in organic farming had been a continuous trend, with one exception.
“From 1997 to 2005 there was a positive trend – the number of organic farms increased from 3,944 to 6,420. From 2006 to 2010 it decreased to 5,659 farms. Since 2011 the trend has been positive again, with the number reaching 6,195 in 2014,” she told swissinfo.ch.
“Regarding the agricultural area cultivated according to organic standards, we observe a similar trend. In 2014 this area made up 133,973 hectares, which is 12.7% of the total agricultural area.”
The office noted that organic products were also well represented in livestock farming, with 13% of livestock farms producing to organic standards.
Buying bio… and the future
According to Biosuisse, the federation of Swiss organic farmers, the organic consumer market was worth CHF2.207 billion ($2.243 billion) in 2014, up by CHF154 million or 7.5% on 2013. It places the market share for bio products in Switzerland at 7.1%.
Biosuisse told swissinfo.ch that there was a strong demand for bio products, with 35.4% of consumers buying organic several times a week. This is attractive to farmers.
It added, however, that it was trying to encourage more organic farming in the French-speaking part of the country to help satisfy demand there.
A European-wide survey recently put Switzerland second in terms of market share for buying bio after Denmark. Austria was third.
However, the Swiss Farmers’ Union said the trend towards organic farming was growing much slower today than a few years ago.
“The problem is the markets. The demand of many organic products is satisfied,” spokeswoman Sandra Helfenstein told swissinfo.ch.
“Organic farming is popular because some people have become more sensitive about the effects of agriculture on the environment and want to be sure that the animals had a good life,” she said.
“But the truth is that for many people the price is also important and that’s why organic products don’t have an endless market potential. Especially in Switzerland where the standard is high anyway and the cost of production high.”