“You could spit over the border, you live so close,” Max, our German friend, thinks. Not quite – it’s still more than a kilometre. But Adolf Keller of Dörflingen probably could, if the wind was going the right way. His Swiss farm house is only about 30 meters from the German border, marked by a single cement post at the side of the road.
Kellers have owned land on both sides of the border for several generations, just as many of the Swiss farmers around him have. The border was never much of an issue for him. The people on both sides are his friends and neighbours. Those relationships haven’t changed, but the regulations from the German agriculture department have and they’re making life difficult for Keller right now.
The biggest challenge are crop protection products (I`ll call them CPP) – herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. The Germans, as part of the EU (European Union), operate under EU rules. Switzerland is non-EU. The first verdict was: No CPP are allowed into Germany from a non-EU country. Not even over a border you can’t see right by your house. It’s been downgraded to: only CPP are allowed which are identical to those sold in Germany, not just similar as it was until now. That means many of the CPP Keller has used may not be allowed on his German land. There’s another side to this – most Swiss sell their commodities under the Integrated Production label in Switzerland. That also has stringent rules regarding which CPP can be used.
A large farmer, that’s around 100 hectares here, could maybe run two systems – one for the Swiss land, one for the German. But most of these farmers aren’t very big – maybe 25 to 30 hectares. The fields might be one or two hectares at best, sometimes even less. The border actually runs right through several of Keller’s fields. “What do I spray that will work for both sets of rules?” is his dilemma.
The EU environmental protection rules are getting much more stringent too. Swiss rules have been tight for some time. Germany has been more lax in that department. Now it looks like they’re going to really tighten things up.
It’s hard enough to keep up with constantly changing and increasingly tough regulations in one country. Trying to do everything right according to two sets of rules is downright difficult. And then there’s the paperwork…
But if some Swiss would decide to abandon their German land, the German farmers would probably be quite happy. The Swiss still achieve substantially higher commodity prices in Switzerland. That gives them the upper hand when bidding for land over their German counterparts. The recent sale of some large tracts of land in Germany to Swiss farmers hasn’t gone over well with the agriculture community there. Many smaller Swiss farmers are convinced this new onslaught of tough rules is retaliation. Who knows. Whatever it is, it’s not making life easy for Keller and his friends. Because they’re not abandoning their land – they can’t afford to. And after all, it’s been theirs for generations.