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Farmers suffer under agricultural reforms

Farmers demonstrated last week in Bern against ongoing agriculture reforms

(Keystone)

Agricultural reform in Switzerland has driven down farmers' income to a level that is almost unacceptable, admits the Federal Agriculture Office.

But in a new report to the government, the office says that productivity has risen and respect for the environment has improved.

"It would be wrong to pretend that reforms haven't changed farmers' lives," said the head of the office, Manfred Bötsch on Tuesday in Bern.

"The large gap between their income and that of other parts of the population is still there."

For Bötsch, these reforms have reached the limits of what he believes is "socially acceptable".

Subsidies threatened?

Last year, total income for Swiss farms was SFr3.22 billion ($2.44 billion), with each concern earning on average SFr76,115. This figure does not take into account how many people are employed on a farm.

Subsidies for farming are under pressure and are regularly targeted by parliament as it seeks to cut government spending.

In 2003, these subsidies were worth over SFr3.9 billion, with nearly two thirds of the sum going straight into farmers' pockets.

Revised agricultural legislation currently being discussed should help improve farming income, guaranteeing socially acceptable development. Farms would receive a global envelope of SFr3.36 billion directly.

This figure could also be subject to revision depending on the outcome of talks at the World Trade Organization and discussions with the United States on a free-trade agreement.

Positive news

There were some bright spots last year for Swiss agriculture.

Productivity continued to rise, as it has done since 1990 at an average rate of 1.4 per cent. Local production prices have also become more competitive with those abroad, even if consumers have yet to benefit, admitted Bötsch.

Farming in Switzerland is becoming more environmentally friendly. Usage of fertiliser and pesticides has dropped by 38 per cent since 1990.

But there has been no drop in energy consumption, and ecology does not necessarily rhyme with agriculture yet.

Available farming surfaces have shrunk by 2.1 per cent in the past 15 years, mainly because of urbanisation and the construction of new infrastructures.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There are around 65,000 farms across Switzerland, versus 80,000 15 years ago.
Every day, five of these farms cease functioning.
The average income of a Swiss farm was SFr76,115 last year.

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In brief

Further agricultural reforms are particularly worrying for Swiss farmers, who feel threatened by the planned revision of the country's farm policy and a possible free-trade agreement with the US.

Around 10,000 farmers demonstrated in Bern last week to express their fears.

Their aim was to "wake up" politicians and make them realise how precarious farmers' livelihoods are.

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