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Swiss Farms: Ever-Increasing Size and Specialisation

The number of farms with a minimum area of 30 ha is growing, and specialisation – particularly in animal production – is on the increase. Even so, structural change is proceeding at a slower pace in Switzerland than in neighbouring countries.

The number of farms in Switzerland has been falling for many decades. Structural change is known, but goes hand in hand with numerous other changes that for the most part are less commonly acknowledged. This report traces the development of the Swiss agricultural sector in the period 2000–2018, based on data from the Federal Office for Agriculture’s agricultural policy information system.

Less surprising is the fact that as the number of farms decreases, the area of the remaining farms increases. In particular, farms with an area in excess of 30 ha are becoming more common, whilst the number of small farms is falling. At the same time, specialisation is on the increase, especially in animal production: the keeping of dairy cows and pigs is concentrated on fewer and fewer farms. In plant production, farms are specialising in the cultivation of root crops and vegetables.

Slower change than in neighbouring countries

Structural change in the Swiss agricultural sector is proceeding more slowly than in neighbouring countries. From 2005–2016, the number of farms in Switzerland, France, Austria, Germany and Italy fell at an annual rate of 1.8%, 2.0%, 2.3%, 3.1% and 3.7%, respectively. The annual growth in area of Swiss farms (1.7%) is also slower than in France (2.1%), Germany (3.0%) and Italy (3.7%). Only in Austria are farms growing more slowly (0.5%) in terms of area, owing to a sharp decrease in utilised agricultural area. 

Farm managers are becoming older on average

A change can also be observed in the age distribution of the farm managers, whose average age is increasing. In the next ten years, around 30% will reach the upper age limit for drawing direct payments of 65 years. This is leading to a generational change that could have an effect on structural change, particularly on farm growth.

Conclusions

  • Large farms of at least 30 ha agricultural area are becoming more common, whilst the number of smaller farms is declining.
  • Structural change is proceeding at a slower pace in Switzerland than in neighbouring countries. In Germany and France, farms are on average considerably bigger and are growing more quickly than in Switzerland.
  • Agricultural specialisation is increasing. Fewer and fewer farms are keeping dairy cows and pigs. In plant production, the focus is primarily on the cultivation of root crops and vegetables.
  • In the next ten years, 30% of farm managers will be reaching the upper age limit for drawing direct payments (65 years). This is leading to a generational change that could have an effect on structural change, particularly on farm growth.

Scientific article

Swiss Farms: Ever-Increasing Size and Specialisation

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