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Farmers make hay in 2020 but brace themselves for grim 2021

The weather was favourable for Swiss farmers last year Keystone / Sigi Tischler

Covid, the weather and the pig market were kind to farmers in 2020, with income increasing 6.7% compared with 2019. But this year is looking much bleaker.

The average income last year was CHF79,200 ($85,500) per farm, CHF5,000 more than the year before, Agroscope, the Swiss federal body for agriculture research, said on TuesdayExternal link. Given that there are an average of 1.35 family workers per farm, this means a full-time wage of CHF58,600.

One reason for this increase was the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to higher demand for local products, especially direct from the farm. The weather was also favourable to agriculture in 2020: vegetables, fruit, rapeseed and cereals had better harvests than in the previous year. Another positive effect on farmers’ wallets was that the pig market continued to recover.

Agroscope said these positive developments compensated for the negative ones: yields in viticulture and sugar beet declined and less wine was sold owing to the pandemic.

Nothing but bad news

Those who work in agriculture would do well to set aside some of this windfall, because 2021 is likely to be a disappointment.

Agroscope expects a gross value added of CHF4.1 billion in Swiss agriculture, a decline of 6.6% compared with last year. This is because total production is declining while costs are rising.

While production and income in livestock farming increased this year, there has been almost nothing but bad news in crop cultivation. The cold spring, frost after the start of vegetation, hail, a rainy summer with sodden soils and little sun put a heavy strain on crop production. Compared with 2020, the production value of crop cultivation will decrease by 9% to an estimated CHF3.8 billion.

Stone fruits, especially apricots and plums, had one of the weakest harvests in the past two decades. The hay harvest was difficult. The cereal harvest was delayed and mixed, causing the production value of cereals to fall by 13%. The production value of potatoes is down by 15% and that of sugar beet by 14%.

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