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Farmers face up to future challenges

Farming needs to find a new way in Switzerland Keystone

Swiss farmers have warned that, while 2004 was economically stable, there are tough times ahead for a sector that is already struggling.

The farmers’ union revealed at a press conference on Tuesday that it had devised several proposals to help its members prepare for the future.

The union’s president, Hansjörg Walter, said that last year had been “economically satisfying” due to a good harvest.

In all, farming revenue had risen by three per cent but this could be explained by low interest rates, said Walter.

But he warned that farmers had been hit by falling prices and the next few years would be difficult for agricultural employees.

The sector has had to cope with major reforms, such as an end to a price guarantee for agricultural products and cuts to farming subsidies.

Furthermore, 2.5 per cent of all farms in Switzerland closed down between 1999-2003.

Walter said that the sector would be placed under more pressure by the international agreement the Swiss signed with the Geneva-based World Trade Organization last August.

This foresees the gradual phasing out of protective tariffs and subsidies for farmers.

Added to this was the liberalisation of the cheese market in line with the European Union in 2007, the gradual abolition of milk quotas and more cost-cutting measures by the government.

Change and reform

“Change and reforms have become a permanent state of affairs for Swiss farming,” said Walter.

This was why the union had come up with several proposals to give farmers more visibility on the market.

This included a new label for home produce, called “Suisse Garantie,” which was launched last September for fruit and vegetables and will be extended to other products this year.

The union also wants to reduce production costs – one of the main reasons food prices in Switzerland are generally higher than in other European countries.

Measures to reduce costs by SFr500 million ($574 million) were announced by the union in October and it called on Bern for more entrepreneurial support for farmers.

Other proposals include reinforcing farming infrastructure and agricultural regions, as well as better integrating agriculture into society and the economy.

swissinfo with agencies

According to the farmers’ union:
The number of farms fell from 79,479 in 1996 to 47,126 in 2003.
The number of jobs in agriculture was 313,895 in 1980 but was only 196,936 in 2002.

The farmers’ union’s four proposals:
1. Reinforcement of farmers’ presence on the market.
2. Reduction of costs and extension of the entreprenerial role for farms.
3. Structural and social support, as well as the reinforcement of rural regions.
4. Reinforcement of agricultural policy in society, as well as in the political and economic worlds.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR