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Swiss government sets out new greener farming policy

The Federal Council (executive body) has presented its new agricultural strategy for 2022-2025, which aims to shrink the sector’s ecological footprint. 

“The PA 22+ agricultural policy stands for environmentally friendly agriculture that takes into account the concerns of the population,” Economics Minister Guy Parmelin told reporters in Bern on Thursday. 

The main focus of the proposed strategy is to combat environmental pollution and to reduce the amount of resources used when farming. 

To do so, the government is raising the bar for farmers seeking to qualify for subsidies. For example, it wants the maximum amount of fertilizer that can be spread per hectare to be reduced from 3% to 2.5% of the total surface area. The choice of authorised products will also be limited and controls will become stricter. 

Financial incentives will be offered to encourage farmers to spray less pesticide. Those who do without herbicides, insecticides or fungicides will receive more money. 

The government proposes that farmers also set aside more land to encourage biodiversity. The federal authorities will pay more to those farmers who let their cows graze or provide special biodiversity services, for example. 

The minister also wants farmers to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous emissions. The government proposes binding targets: a reduction of 10% by 2025 and of 20% by 2030 from current levels. This is an issue as Swiss farmers apply more fertilizer to their fields than plants can absorb. Excess nitrogen accumulates in the soil and seeps into the groundwater as nitrate. 

The overall budget for the proposal, which covers 2022-2025, is estimated at CHF13.8 billion – the same as the current agricultural programme. 

There were roughly 51,620 farms in Switzerland in 2017. The agriculture sector accounts for less than 1% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. 

Switzerland imports between 40% and 50% of food and its economy depends to a large degree on exports. 

The proposed reform will now move to parliament for further discussion. Two people’s initiatives against pesticides will also be voted in November at the latest.