Greetings from Switzerland!
The view hasn’t changed – fields of winter canola and wheat, behind them the dark outlines of the Black Forest across the border in Germany.
But otherwise little has stayed the same for the Emmerhof, the farm we left almost 20 years ago for a new life in Canada. This morning we had breakfast with the owners, Doris and Walter Stamm (no relation). I asked them what had changed for them in that time.
The biggest change, Doris told me, was that where farmers once derived most of their income from the price of their product, a good part now comes from subsidies. These subsidies increasingly are tied to production practices that have more to do with sustaining nature than farmers.
The buzz word in Swiss agriculture right now is biodiversity: providing an ecosystem that is as diverse as possible. There are farmers like Gabi Uelinger, whom I wrote about in my June 1/10 blog (Harmony), who are happy to farm in harmony with nature. Others, like Walter Stamm, find the regulations choking. He chaffs at the idea of splitting his already small fields (often only five acres) into three parts with hedges.
Besides grain and sugar beets, the Stamms produce beef, as we already did. They buy calves and raise them to slaughter weight. To maintain competitiveness, they went beyond regulations that required more space per animal and provided access to free range outside to qualify for the label product, “Swiss Beef”. Doris says that the only buyers for conventionally produced beef are restaurants. Consumers all demand label products that prove the meat is produced in animal friendly ways.
New changes are tying meat label requirements together with biodiversity requirements. Doris feels that is unfair – environmental practices that don’t affect your feed have nothing to do with the way you look after your animals. Right now they are fortunate to be able to fulfill the points needed for biodiversity. They have enough extensive hay land on steeper slopes, land along bush lines, and old fruit trees. But if regulations continue to tighten, they may decide to give up the label product.
When Robert made the decision to move to Canada to farm, he did it in part because as a member of provincial agriculture boards he saw changes coming he didn’t want to be a part of. They laughed at him then, saying those changes are a long ways off and won’t be that bad. The changes began within a year and are more far reaching than even he thought.
But the Stamms are thankful to be on the Emmerhof and we are thankful to be in Canada. A win/win for all!