The farming landscape after Brexit: A brief look at Ecological Incentives in Switzerland
A letter from the Swiss Bio Farmer, Thomas Rippel:
“Dear producers of the Farmerama Podcast. Thanks for all the good work you have been doing.
I was listening to your episode 19 on “rewilding”. I wanted to share with you some of the amazing things happening in Switzerland in this direction. Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world where farmers are actually partially required to and get paid by the government to take ecological actions.
For example, every farmer needs to leave at least 7% of their farm area as an “ecological habitat”. This means that you are not allowed to put any fertiliser on it (even manure) and on those areas you may only cut the grass once a year, leaving at least 10% standing for plants and insects to have refuge and repopulate. If you can show that you have a certain number of rare plants on those fields, then you get paid extra for that.
Another example: you get paid for planting trees and get paid every year to maintain them. Trees are important habitats for birds and insects as well.
Or: when you plant grains and leave at least 3 10x10 meter patches open then certain birds that make nests on the ground can find refuge. You get paid for that. There are hundreds of examples like this.
These payments are not insignificant.
For example if you have grassland with high biodiversity and lots of rare plants you will get about $2500 per hectare per year. To grow a tree you get $150 and about $35–90 per year to maintain. If you grow hedges (which again have no economic value for the farmer but help biodiversity) you get about $2000 per hectare per year. If you don’t cut the grass next to rivers to preserve that special habitat (it has to be a strip at least 5 meter wide and 50 meters long) you get $2.50 per meter per year.
90% of the money farmers get is NOT subsidy, but payments for things like this.
Also if farmers don’t plough (working the soil to a max. of 8 cm depth is allowed) they get $250 per hectare. If the cows eat at least 75% grass then you get $200 per hecate. If its 90% grass its $400 per hectare. In average a farm has 23 hectares and received $55,000 in government payments.
The farmers generally welcome all of this. But agricultural policy is always determined for a 4 year period. So every 4 years the measures are adapted and because our entire world is changing very quickly, this area is no exception. This is what the farmers resent somewhat.”
What will our farming policy look like after Brexit? Would this approach work here? What are the alternatives? How can we combine smaller-scale farming, profitable farm businesses, conservation agriculture, rewilding, organics, soil science, biodynamics, agroecology, heritage grains, indigenous crops, biodiversity, rare breeds, good animal welfare, agroforestry, companion cropping, multi-specie systems, permaculture, closed-loop systems, perennial crops, thriving rural communities, regenerative landscapes, healthy food, beauty in our world…the list is long. Send us your thoughts or ideas on facebook, twitter or email us farmeramaradio [at] gmail [dot] com.