Farming is an important part of the Swiss economy and culture. The country is famous for its vast Alpine pastures, and those who visit the more rural areas of Switzerland will often spot cows and goats. The country even has entire holidays and events that are centered around cattle processions, and they’re absolutely wonderful to take part in, even for tourists!
How common is farming in Switzerland, what’s the average farm size in the country, and what do farmers produce the most are just some of the key topics covered in this detailed guide. Keep reading to learn more about the culture of farming in Switzerland, and see why the country is so successful when it comes to agricultural production and sustainable, organic farming!
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Facts & Figures
The Federal Statistical Office of Switzerland states that there were 48,344 farms in the country in 2022, which is a decline of 1.1% compared to the previous year. That sounds like a big number, but to put things in perspective, at one point in time there were more than 50,000 farms throughout Switzerland and their number has been declining steadily over the years.
About a third of total Swiss land is used for agricultural purposes and there’s a total of 1,036,000 hectares of arable land utilized for Swiss agriculture. That’s a lot of land, especially considering the geography of Switzerland, which includes so many tall mountains and non-arable land, as well as only 10.12% of arable land suitable for agricultural production.
The percentage of land used for agriculture is also declining every year, as well as the number of livestock registered in Switzerland for farming purposes. However, there is a trend of increase in farm size; the smallest Swiss farms are slowly disappearing, and there is a noticeable increase in the number of farms larger than 30 hectares.
Despite the negative statistics concerning farms and agricultural land in the country, Switzerland still has a rather high farming output. The country’s agricultural sector accounts for approximately 1% of its total GDP, which is around 8 billion dollars. Part of that is the revenue from exports of various agricultural products, but the farmers also supply pretty much the entire Swiss food market.
Types of Farming in Switzerland
Switzerland has a varied climate, which allows for the cultivation of many different crops. The main crops grown in Switzerland are grains (barley, wheat, rye, oats), maize, potato, sunflowers, sugar beet, soya, tobacco, and beans.
But in terms of quantity, the most commonly grown organic crops in the country are bread and fodder cereal, potatoes, and vegetables. A lot of these crops are exported to Switzerland’s trade partners, but an even larger number stays in the country. The Swiss farmers safeguard national food security and supply the local supermarkets, restaurants, and other establishments with quality Swiss products.
Additionally, the southern regions of Switzerland have a warmer climate that allows for fruit production. Approximately 6,000 hectares of farms throughout Switzerland are reserved for fruit farming, and the most common products are apples, kiwis, pears, berries, apricots, etc.
Livestock farming and animal production are extremely important for Swiss agriculture. Organic farming of animals is common in Switzerland, and the country is home to many cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, and other farm animals.
The animals are essential for both dairy farming and meat farming. One thing I must point out is that Switzerland has some of the strictest animal welfare laws. It’s set to become the first nation to entirely ban factory farming, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
What’s even more impressive is that countless farmers voluntarily take part in various animal welfare programs, which state that anyone who keeps animals must make sure that they are kept in a space that is suitable for their species. The animals must have plenty of space, and it is necessary to take care of both their physical and mental well-being.
Switzerland is world-famous for its many delicious cheeses, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising that dairy farming is very common in the Alpine country. Swiss cheese is without contest the most important dairy product made in the country, but it’s important to note that Switzerland exports other dairy products as well, including eggs, milk, and others.
Additionally, keep in mind that the local Swiss farmers supply virtually all the restaurants and supermarkets. A very large percentage of dairy products produced on Swiss farms never make it out of the country, and yet Switzerland still manages to export approximately $816.52 million of various dairy products.
Sustainable Farming in Switzerland
Sustainable farming is very much a thing in Switzerland. Organic agriculture is dominant in the country, there is talk among Swiss lawmakers to entirely ban factory farming, and there are many regulations in place that promote the organic production of food crops as well as animal welfare.
But the main factor to consider when discussing sustainable farming in Switzerland is the size of Swiss farms. The average farm size in Switzerland is approximately 21.6 hectares, compared to Germany’s average farm size of 60.5 hectares. Swiss farms are small compared to the farms in their neighboring countries, and that’s because many of those farms are run by families.
On average, 20 hectares is the standard for a family-run farm, and statistics tell us that those are the trend in Switzerland. The average farm size in Switzerland has nearly doubled since the 1990s and the smallest farms are slowly disappearing, while farms larger than 30 hectares are becoming the new standard.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Switzerland known for farming?
Yes, Switzerland is well-known for farming, particularly in the country’s rural population. Approximately a third of the country’s total land is agricultural land, and farming output accounts for 1% of the total Gross Domestic Product of Switzerland.
Can foreigners buy a farm in Switzerland?
Yes, it is possible for foreigners to buy farms in Switzerland. There is a lot of red tape when it comes to purchasing a farm as a non-national, but if you’re cleared by all the relevant authorities and you get all the necessary paperwork, there’s nothing stopping you from having your own little (or big) farm somewhere in Switzerland.
What are the challenges encountered by Swiss farmers?
The consequences of climate change are some of the largest challenges that Swiss farmers must deal with on a daily basis. The amount of arable land is shrinking and the changing weather conditions impact the health and yield of crops every year. Poor weather conditions often mean a smaller yield, which in turn raises concerns regarding food security.