Agroscope, Freie Universität Berlin

Rising Expenditure for Water Use in Agriculture

The past 30 years have seen a clear trend towards rising water costs. The supply of agricultural land with water from natural sources is thus coming under increasing pressure.  

Global warming is a key challenge of our times, and even Switzerland is no stranger to noticeable and measurable climate change.  One sector that is particularly affected by the consequences of increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation is agriculture. At the same time, farming requires sufficient water to maintain surface area productivity.

Natural water sources must be supplemented

Whereas in the past the bulk of the required water came from local natural water sources, these are now visibly coming under pressure due to increasing temperatures and precipitation variability. The upshot of this is that farms will in future be increasingly reliant on fee-based sources such as the drinking-water supply network to secure their irrigation needs.  

Rising water costs and growing farms

To determine how climate change and structural change in agriculture affected farm water expenditure in the period from 1990 to 2019, we examined an Agroscope Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) dataset with 95,924 observations from a total of 12,312 farms.

Inflation-adjusted water costs increased significantly over the period under review. Average expenditure on a farm for water was still just CHF 505 in 1990; in 2019, inflation-adjusted water costs had risen to CHF 1213.  The highest increase in costs was for livestock farms, where water costs rose from CHF 600 to CHF 1400. Over the same period, the percentage of farms reporting expenditure on water in their accounts rose from 63 to 73 per cent. The highest percentage was for ‘special crops’ farmers, over 90 per cent of whom logged expenditure on water. Most irrigated crops fall into this category.

Farms in large, populous regions have a higher average expenditure on water than farms in peripheral locations. Thus, for example, a Zurich farm will spend up to CHF 771 more per year irrigating its crops than farms on the Swiss Central Plateau.


  • Swiss farm water expenditure has increased over the past thirty years.
  • The trend can be observed both throughout Switzerland and in all regional locations (plain, upland and mountain regions), as well as in all farm types considered (plant production, livestock production, mixed farms).
  • Detailed information on water consumption in agriculture is necessary to enable the development of regional planning tools and to support the farms in the optimal use of their acreage in view of the climatic and structural changes confronting them.
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