Swiss Farmers’ wish list for 2012

Weather and prices dominate the wish list of many Swiss farmers for 2012. 2011 was a difficult year weather-wise. A warm dry winter and spring caused a major drought. Feed was scarce for livestock, and crops were stunted. A rainy cool July reversed some of the damage, but made for a wet harvest. Heavy hail in many areas devastated grain crops.

“A rainy day a week, then sunshine,” was Markus Stamm’s first wish. That would make for a much more relaxing situation for farmers. Benjamin Gasser, a nearby young farmer, agrees heartily. He too hopes for a year with less turbulent weather changes; a bit more leeway to work with.

It's a busy day making corn silage on the Stamm farm. In 2012 Markus would like time to do more than just work.

“I’d like a little time just to live,” was Stamm’s second wish, “that I’m not just running from one thing to the other.” The Stamm crops are grown according to IP (Integrated Production) specifications, and his cattle produced as Natura Beef. Both labels are highly regulated, with clear specifications that must be met, and recorded. All this means a lot of extra work. Markus also renovated his barn last summer, doing most of the work himself. In 2012 he hopes to be able to take a week of holidays in the summer and more time off.

Ernst Spengler lives and works on the mixed farm – dairy, broilers, and crops – of his son-in-law. ”I wish for better milk and pork prices,” was his immediate response. With the demise of the milk quota system production rose too high, with an inevitable drop in price. He’s thankful they invested in a broiler barn instead of into the dairy. The broiler operation is doing well.

Could it be this cow is outraged that her milk should be worth so little?

Pork producers are struggling hard to make ends meet, Spengler told me. A longer period of high prices had farmers producing more pigs, which too resulted in a drastic drop in price. Many mills are now feeling the crunch because farmers don’t have the cash to pay bills. It reminds me strongly of the recent situation for western Canadian hog farmers.

Christoph Hafner sits on various agriculture and community boards. He just turned the responsibility of running the mixed family farm over to his son, but continues to live and work there. “I wish that commodity prices would be calculated differently – from below, and not from above – so that farmers would get a decent wage.” He is referring to the fact that prices are dictated by the big companies buying the product, and not by the farmer. He feels farmers don’t get enough of the ‘cake’, often only crumbs, leaving them with slender pickings to live off of.

Christoph Hafner enjoys his first crop of sugar beets, a product that still seems to make some money.

Government agriculture policies should be geared more towards encouraging the production and consumption of domestic food, Hafner says. That would be real development. It would mean higher grocery bills, but reflect the true value of food, and benefit the farmer. “So many people think we don’t need the Swiss farmer at all,” he laments.

Sadly, weather and prices aren’t something individual farmers have much control over – which is probably why they are the highest on the wish list! I wish you Swiss farmers (and all farmers everywhere) all the best in 2012, and that your farms and families may prosper!

Next week we’ll hear what my Canadian farm friends wish for 2012.

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