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Large Predators Make Cost-Effective Alpine Summer Grazing of Sheep Difficult

Protecting sheep from large predators means more work and higher costs for alpine farmers. The economic consequences of the necessary adjustments were investigated in 2017 and 2018 on 13 alpine farms in the cantons of Uri and Valais.

The additional costs incurred in adapting summer sheep-grazing systems to the threat posed by large predators come to just under CHF 7.6 million francs for the whole of Switzerland, calculated by extrapolating to all designated standard impacts*. On the alpine farms studied, about half of these additional costs on average are offset by additional income, e.g. higher direct payments (due to a change in grazing system) and/or additional subsidies for flock-protection measures. The other half of the costs must be borne by the alpine farmers themselves. The authors recommend adapting the current subsidy system so that additional costs are covered mostly or wholly by additional income. To this end, for example, direct payments for ‘continuous shepherding’ and ‘rotational grazing with successfully tested flock-protection measures’ could be increased. Alternatively, the alpine farmer could be compensated for the additional costs incurred in adapting to the threat of large predators, based on an individual-farm concept.

* A standard impact is a Swiss-specific measurement corresponding to the summer alpine pasturing of one roughage-consuming livestock unit for 100 days.

In many cases, adapting sheep summer-grazing systems to the threat of large predators requires a change in the farming system through both on-farm and flock-protection measures. On-farm measures such as the hiring of shepherds, the provision of accommodation and changed grazing management are key cost-intensive requirements that must first be introduced before flock-protection measures such as night-time corrals or livestock-guardian dogs can be implemented (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Livestock-guarding dogs as a possible flock-protection measure. Picture: Lisa Beutler.

In particular, the hiring of shepherds plays an economically significant role in adapting summer grazing to the threat of large predators, accounting for 43% of total costs (Fig. 2). In summary, it can be said that the costs of on-farm measures exceed those of flock-protection measures.

Fig. 2: Alpine workers: a major cost factor for alpine summer grazing systems. Picture: Büro Alpe.

On average, the total additional costs of adapting summer sheep-grazing systems to the threat of large predators are CHF 17,875 per alpine farm and year, CHF 318 per designated standard impact and year, and CHF 43 per sheep and year, or just under CHF 7.6 million per year when extrapolated to all sheep that are meant to graze alpine summer pastures across Switzerland.

Currently, only about half of the additional costs are covered by additional income. This results in an average CHF 9,039 per alpine farm and year, or CHF 161 per designated standard impact and year, that Swiss alpine farmers must shoulder themselves. Extrapolated to the country as a whole, the uncovered additional costs come to about CHF 3.8 million, which is why the authors recommend adapting the current subsidy system.

One way of doing this would be to expand current direct payments. The advantages of this approach would be twofold: it would require limited administrative effort, and it would allow the development of individual strategies for adapting summer sheep-grazing systems to the threat of large predators, thus encouraging innovation in terms of on-farm and flock-protection measures. Disadvantages would be the broader and less-targeted use of subsidies, and the risk that fixed amounts could result in cases of over- or underpayment.

Another way to adapt the current subsidy system would be to compensate each alpine farm for the precise additional costs incurred in adapting to the threat of large predators, based on an individual concept. The advantage of this approach is that each alpine farm would be compensated for the entirety of their additional expenditure, while the drawback would be the high administrative effort involved.

Conclusions

  • The total additional costs of adapting summer sheep-grazing systems to the threat of large predators come to almost CHF 18,000 francs per alpine farm.
  • About half of the additional costs must be borne by the alpine farmers themselves.
  • If need be, uncovered additional costs could be met by expanded direct payments. The advantage of this strategy would be the low administrative effort involved; the disadvantage would be the less-targeted use of subsidies.
  • Alternatively, uncovered additional costs could be reimbursed on the basis of a concept worked out for the individual farm. A disadvantage here would be the high administrative effort involved.

Scientific article

Large Predators Make Cost-Effective Alpine Summer Grazing of Sheep Difficult

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