The first visit of my second day with Wolfgang started with a visit to IP Suisse http://www.ipsuisse.ch .The IP stands for Integrated Production.
It is a similar organisation to LEAF in the UK but is much more focused on selling farmers produce for a premium. We met with Peter Althaus:
There is a government scheme in Switzerland called Extenso. This pays farmers 400 F if they farm in a specific environmentally friendly way. Being in Extenso is the basic requirement for IP Suisse and means you can sell your produce for around a 10% premium. For example: if you grow wheat without fungicides, growth regulators or insecticides you get this payment. ( Also the variety of wheat must be a local Swiss variety). There is no restrictions on fertiliser use by IP Suisee but farmers have to justify their use to the government, a statuary obligation. There is normally a yield penalty in IP Suisse but the farmer has more profit. The average extra profit for each for an IP Suisse farmer is about 4000 SFr. per year.
IP Suisse has 20,000 members which accounts for a third of Swiss farmers. It is a non profit farmer owned organisation. The organisation has an executive committee of 25 farmers who decide the standards for the coming period and meet every month. They also have 25 partners along the supply chain. The main one being Migros, which is a supermarket chain but also the Swiss Ornithological Institute (who do bird counts on 60 farms per year) and Hiestand (which sells baked goods in petrol stations). Overall they have 25 partners. Most partners sell IP Suisse products under the IP Suisse label but Migros sell under the TerraSuisse Label. It can be recognised by the Ladybird label which is also seen on farm entrances and buildings.
Some stats to give you an idea of the annual production of IP Suisse products:
- meat production 650,000 animals
- cereals 100,000 tonnes
- potatoes 10,000 tonnes
- oilseed rape 3,000 tonnes
They also have a points system for biodiversity which is similar to the ELS scheme. Each farmer needs a certain number of points which he gains by Skylark plots etc. This is a USP for IP Suisse. They also have an advisory service for biodiversity and have found that this helps farmers improve diversity over farmers without advise.
There are a few projects for the future. They are doing an energy points scheme. Farmers have to show they have reduced energy use by 10%. This will be mandatory for IP Suisse farmers by 2017-18. They are looking into carbon accreditation. Production of milk without concentrates called Meadow Milk. Also production in sugar, eggs and vegetables.
This scheme seems to work very well in Switzerland and has been very successful but you wonder how it could transfer to other countries. It only works because the government pays for the Extenso scheme. If the Swiss public start to question whether their tax money is justified for this purpose then there could be issues in the future. Also Swiss people are very concerned about the cleanliness of their food and environment and are willing to pay extra for their food to safeguard it.
After IP Suisse we went to see Andreas Wyssbrod. He is a farmer and contractor. He has 600 contracting clients!
When we got to Andreas he was planting 0.5ha of Triticale into grass for a customer
It was very wet and 6 weeks later than normal. Also the farmer has spread manure recently which didn’t help! Last year he got 6t/ha of triticale doing this.
Next we went to some cover crop plots planted by Andreas. He had planted them for a farmer. The farmer got paid 100 SFr. per species planted but the seed is very expensive so it was no money maker. Just shows that sometimes subsidies don’t end up in the farmers pockets in the end!
He had planted 15 different species but no mixes. He was going to fly a drone over the maize crop next spring to see if there is any differences.
Next he took us to one of his cover crop fields where the field next door he had used a Kelly Harrow to knockdown the sunflower stalks. He found that they were knocking off his seed pipes when drilling wheat in the winter. He thought he would try the harrows in the cover crops to see if it made drilling easier in the spring when planting maize as the stalks and cover crops can hinder the row cleaners on his planter.
I thought I would show you the picture below because it typifies a lot of arable farming in Switzerland
The field really are surrounded by houses not houses surrounded by fields like in the English Countryside. We think we are heavily populated in Kent, it is nothing compared to here!
After lunch cooked by Andreas’ wife we went to another customer where he had 3.4ha of wheat to drill, a big field. We turned up and all the seed was in 25kg bags. So while Andreas’ was loading the drill which was a good 20 minutes we went to look at a field of barley he had drilled before. I now understand why they charge so much for drilling ( about £160/ ha I think) . They have so much road work and small fields to do that to get the same output per day as us in the UK they have to work a lot more hours per day.
I had a brilliant couple of days with Wolfgang ( on the right)
He was so generous with his time and is full of knowledge and enthusiasm. He is coming to the UK in February to speak at the BASE UK AGM if people want to hear him speak. He can talk in English, German or French but hopefully in February it will be in English.
Wolfgang thank you so much and I would recommend anyone coming to Switzerland to give him a ring. It won’t be a waste of your time.