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Farmers sound the alarm bells again

Breakfast on the farm is popular among the Swiss Keystone

One in two Swiss farms might have to give up production within a decade and one in four farm families lives below the breadline, says the Swiss farmers association.

On Thursday it repeated calls on politicians to slow down planned reforms of the agriculture sector, including cuts in production subsidies.

The association’s president, Hansjörg Walther, said the future of the Swiss farming sector was at risk even without the additional pressure of a government-sponsored reform package or a new round of international trade liberalisation.

He said the Swiss people and politicians had to decide now whether they wanted to maintain a multifunctional farming sector or to adopt production methods which are not intensive and support the reforestation of large swathes of agricultural lands.

The association warned that the average income per person working in the agricultural sector dropped by nearly SFr3,000 to SFr33,800 ($27,570) last year.

It said 25 per cent of all farming families were already considered working poor, because they don’t earn enough to make a living from farming.

A further 25 per cent lack the necessary income to invest in the farm or to save up sufficent funds for their old age.

Under pressure

But the Federal Agriculture Office dismissed the statements – the latest in a series of warnings over the uncertain future of farmers in Switzerland.

The federal office said calls for an increase in the government’s agriculture budget could not hold up inevitable changes in the farming sector.

Over the past 15 years a third of the country’s farms have disappeared while the number of employees working in the agricultural sectors has dropped by a quarter to 188,000, according to the federal authorities.

In December parliament began discussing government plans to cut market support measures and transform current subsidies into payments unrelated to production. This is in an effort to make the agricultural sector more competitive.

Also late last year a think tank with close ties to the business community called for the abolition of agricultural duties and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies, as part of a radical shake-up of the sector. The proposals were flatly rejected by the farmers.

swissinfo with agencies

In 1900, 31% of the Swiss workforce was employed in the agricultural sector. Today the figure is less than 4%. They cultivate, use and shape almost 40% of the total area of the country.

The farming community has become a small minority in a service economy, with a clear multifunctional role, which has been enshrined in the Federal Constitution since 1996.

Under the federal law on agriculture the state supports farmers, primarily by direct payments and payments for environmentally friendly rather than product-related methods.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR