Some political parties say Switzerland needs to save, but not at the expense of farmers, reports 20 Minutes. Parties upset by planned cuts include the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP), the PDC/CVP and PBD/BDP. The Swiss People’s Party in particular, has a long history of defending farmers’ interests. Some in French-speaking Switzerland still refer to it as the “parti agrarien”.
Other parties such as the PLR/FDP and Socialists support the government’s plan to trim agricultural subsidies.
The Swiss government’s plan to shave CHF 789 million off the annual agricultural budget for 2018 to 2021 would reduce farm support from CHF 13.8 to 13.0 billion a year.
Roughly 80% of this money is paid directly to farmers to supplement their incomes. The rest is spent supporting the industry in other ways.
In 2014, an average Swiss farming family received CHF 65,000 from Switzerland’s central tax pot. This combined with CHF 3,000 net farm income, and 26,000 of non-farm income, brought the total average farming-family income to just over CHF 94,000.
By 2014, an average Swiss farm was 23 hectares and worth CHF 983,810.
In the 10 years to 2014, an average Swiss farming family saw their income rise 12% from CHF 82,000 to CHF 94,000. Most of this increase came from a 37% increase in farm subsidies along with a 22% increase in money earned outside farming. In addition, an average farm increased in value by 28% or CHF 212,615. Over the same period net farm-generated income fell from around CHF 13,000 to about CHF 3,000.
Parties opposed to the cuts point to recent declines in farm-generated income and say the government is breaking promises. The PDC adds that farm support is the only area where the cuts will put future spending below the current level. Others argue less money will threaten animal welfare.
Those supporting the cuts say budget reductions are planned everywhere and farming should not be an exception. The Socialist and Liberal Green parties say some payments encourage over production.
In 2014, Switzerland had the second highest farm subsidies in the world, when measured as a percentage of gross farm receipts. The OECD chart below allows you compare Swiss farm support with other countries using the dropdown menu. Swiss farm aid is around double the EU and OECD averages. For the starkest comparison select New Zealand, the country with the lowest farm aid. One reason behind these big differences is farm size. At 23 hectares an average Swiss farm is tiny compared to New Zealand, where the average is 248 hectares.
If Switzerland’s parliament stands firm with its planned cuts there are likely to be many long and lively debates in Bern. Last year when the 2016 agricultural budget was cut angry farmers amassed on the streets in Bern. And the farming lobby won. Farmers were promised an extra CHF 61 million, taking government spending even further into the red.
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