Digital Farming Is Strengthening the Role of Contractors

The family farm is the backbone of the Swiss agricultural sector. A recent study by Agroscope investigates the extent to which digitalisation has shifted the balance in the institutional structure of farming.

Today the farm combines two key functions: it is where important production decisions are made, and also implemented – for example, by drilling, fertilising and harvesting. New, labour-saving technologies as well as processes for integration into value chains call into question the extent to which these two key functions will remain linked to the farm in future.

Growing influence of the food industry

Businesses in the food sector already have an ever-increasing influence on on-farm production processes. Poultry production is one example: many farms are tied into contracts which stipulate the variety of chick, the fattening period and the fodder used. International research in this field clearly shows that farms involved in this type of “vertical integration” are more commercially successful than independent farms. Thus the food industry’s influence on decisions at production level continues to increase.

Changing job description

The equipment and machinery used in production is clearly becoming increasingly complex and expensive, while the need for direct human intervention is declining. These two developments strengthen the role of contractors who can afford to make major investments. Self-propelled tractors are already approved in the USA, and if they find their way onto Swiss fields, it will most likely be the contractor’s tractor doing the ploughing and fertilising. While farmers face an increasing number of management tasks, at the same time they are gaining additional freedoms as they are less tied to specific jobs on their farms. This aspect is particularly relevant when it comes to farm succession.


  • The job of farm contractor will become increasingly relevant. Most contractors are farmers starting out in this sector. Contract work can be an attractive proposition for innovative farmers, although it requires ever greater investment and a high level of technical expertise.
  • Farms that outsource skills and integrate contractually into the value chain often profit financially. This increases the food industry’s influence on production.
  • Digitalisation is changing the farmer’s job description. Managerial tasks are becoming increasingly important. Changing demands placed on farm managers should be reflected in curricula.
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