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Farming is more competitive but consumers fail to benefit

The use of pesticides has dropped by 30 per cent over the past decade Keystone

Swiss farmers have become more competitive and pay more attention to protecting the environment, according to the federal office for agriculture. However, it says consumers have not benefited from the drop in the cost of production.

In its annual report, the office said on Tuesday that the government’s aim to make farming more competitive was bearing fruit. It said the cost of producing agricultural goods in 1999 was on average 23 per cent lower than in the period 1990-92.

The report notes that before the agricultural reforms in the 1990s, milk was around SFr1.07 per litre while cereals sold for SFr104 per 100 kilogrammes. By last year these had fallen to SFr.080 for a litre of milk and SFr74 for the equivalent quantity of cereals.

However, over the same period consumers have had to pay on average four per cent more for their meat, fruit and vegetables.

Farmers themselves are also worse off, as their share of every franc spent by consumers has fallen from SFr0.37 to SFr0.24. The report says this has contributed to a drop in the number of farmers.

The federal office for agriculture says every year, about 2.5 per cent of farms close down. But it says farms are becoming more viable units, even if at 17 hectares their average size is about two and a half times smaller than farms in Germany.

The report also highlights the progress made by farmers in protecting the environment. The use of pesticides has dropped by 30 per cent in the past decade, and 95 per cent now use environmentally friendly “integrated production” farming methods, compared with 18 per cent seven years ago.

The office’s director, Manfred Bötsch, said agriculture was “on the way to sustainability”.

The growing demand for organic produce has also led to a boom in the number of organic farms, which numbered 4,744 last year, a fourfold increase since 1993.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR