Why do Swiss farmers complain about the administrative burden associated with the direct payments system? Studies conducted by Agroscope show that the issue is not the time required: other factors are more important.
The administrative burden in agriculture associated with the Swiss direct payments system is a much-discussed topic, both in agricultural practice and in government. Agroscope has therefore conducted various studies to investigate how farmers perceive this administrative burden and which factors influence their perceptions.
The surveys show that most farmers believe the administrative burden has increased in recent years. On average, they now spend 3–5% of their working time on administrative activities related to the direct payments system.
Administrative activities cause stress
However, the administrative burden perceived by individual farmers does not correlate with the working time required for form-filling and other activities related to direct payments. A more important factor is the “psychological costs”. These reflect the respondents’ attitudes toward the direct payments system, e.g. how closely they identify with the system or whether they believe the checks and controls are important.
The psychological costs in turn depend greatly on the level of knowledge and the effective labour costs, such as the administrative workload associated with switching to electronic forms or the time required to provide documentation for direct payment checks. The better farmers feel about agricultural policy and the lower the labour costs, the lower the psychological costs and the smaller the perceived administrative burden.
The higher the burden, the more negative the attitude to agricultural policy
Although many complain about the administrative burden, 27% of the farmers surveyed are basically in favour of the direct payments system, 53% are neutral and only 20% are truly dissatisfied. However, the higher the administrative burden for farmers, the more negative their perceptions of the federal direct payments policy.
Interestingly, neither age nor educational level affects farmers’ perceptions of the direct payments policy. Key factors are social exchange, high environmental awareness and a good understanding of agricultural policy. The more marked these factors, the more positive are farmers’ perceptions of the direct payments system.
Administrative work costs 5% of the direct payments budget
Private administrative costs incurred by Swiss agriculture due to the direct payments system amount to around 136 million Swiss francs per year. This equates to 5.4% of the total direct payments disbursed, or 4.9% if the summering and transitional contributions are also taken into account.
- The administrative burden is not so much a time issue (e.g. time required for form-filling), but more a psychological issue: the more negative the attitude towards the direct payments system, the higher the perceived burden.
- To reduce the psychological costs, the record-keeping requirements for farmers would need to be eased through agricultural policy, advice and education.
- To reduce the perceived administrative burden, farmers’ training and information would need to focus on improving their understanding of the rationale behind the direct payments system.
- Age and education have no influence on the perceived administrative burden due to the direct payments system, the time required for record-keeping, or the perception of agricultural policy in general.