Half of farmers will retire in 15 years: their successors should make farming greener
Switzerland’s largest nature conservation organization wants to use generational change on farms to make agriculture more sustainable. In the future, adjustments should be due at the latest when handing over the farm and not on the TSTIME.
One in two farmers who run their own business will reach retirement age within the next 15 years. And with around 25,000 managers, there are quite a few. They could all continue to operate the farm after their retirement, but from the age of 66 they are no longer entitled to direct payments. Result: If you cannot find a successor, you must close the farm. This in turn fuels the structural change in agriculture that has been going on for years: the number of farms is decreasing, the area per farm is increasing.
Nature conservation organization Pro Natura is now using the next wave of farmer retirements to show how agricultural policy can be “transformed in an environmentally and socially responsible way”. In a report of nearly 50 pages, the association explains how the coming generational change can be used as an “ecological opportunity”.
Objective: fewer animals, fewer pesticides
Marcel Liner, head of agricultural policy at Pro Natura, explains: “In the future, adjustments based on political decisions should not only be implemented on schedule, but also during a generational change. In this way, the next generation can adapt to the new framework conditions very early on and thus ensure that the company does not exceed the “carrying capacity of the ecosystems”. The term refers to the maximum number of plants and animals that can exist in a habitat without damaging it.
Liner is convinced of this: “A farm shed is the ideal time, for example, to remove animals from the farm or to switch to pesticide-free production in fruit growing. In the report, Pro Natura lists other possible requirements that could be implemented in the context of farm transfers: Only those who produce milk for domestic supply, apply less fertilizer, practice organic farming , feed their animals only with the farm’s own feed or feed their farm should receive direct payments fully converted from animal production to crop production.
It’s important that the specs are “suitable for the location,” says Liner. Farm animals are in good hands in the mountain zone, but in the valley zone it makes no sense to give the produced grain to the animals first. Here it is worth switching to the production of food that can be consumed directly by humans.
Higher taxes on animal products?
Liner points out: “The ecological and social challenges of the agricultural sector cannot be solved by changing generations alone.” It calls for additional measures. Among other things, subsidies that harm biodiversity must be removed. According to Liner, the sales promotion could also be limited to certain products. The head of agricultural policy also sees potential in increasing VAT rates – “for example on animal products or products produced abroad”.
According to Ursula Schneider Schüttel, president of Pro Natura, the report should finally break the deadlock of agricultural policy: “We must now set the course for the future.” The National Councilor (SP/FR) is aware that such measures will harm certain sectors.
But the need for action is great in the face of the biodiversity and climate crisis, time is running out and the pressure on agriculture is increasing. Schneider Schüttel does not just want to wait for a change in consumer behavior: “We cannot just leave the responsibility to consumers, after all, they also use the price as a guide when choosing products.” And that depends heavily on political decisions.