No other areas within the Canton of Bern have as many organic farms as the Saanenland and Obersimmental regions and this success story continues to unfold. Every year, more farms convert to organic methods. Those in charge hope that the demand for organic produce will continue to be sustainable.
The numbers are impressive. In the Obersimmental-Saanen region within the Canton of Bern, 576 farms receive direct subsidies. Of these, 156 are registered as organic, i.e. 27.08%. Almost one in every three farms here operates according to organic principles. Ernst Flückiger is head of the consultancy department of Inforama near Bern and responsible for promoting organic farming. He says: "Saanenland has a very high proportion of organic farmers, with over 27% compared to the cantonal average of 12%."
In Saanenland, many farmers switched to organic farming ten or even fifteen years ago. Flückiger says: "In the mountains, farms tend to be more cultivated than at lower altitudes. Farms dedicated to grassland with milk and meat production are more suitable for converting to organic methods than arable farms.”
The considerable benefits of organic farming
Christoph Bach, president of the Saanenland agricultural association, explains that, in livestock farming, there isn’t a huge difference between organic and conventional methods when it comes to day-to-day operations: "The organic sector has restrictions on feeding. Organic farmers can’t use concentrated food and they generally buy in less animal food.” On the other hand, there are considerable benefits for farmers who convert to organic methods: "They receive higher subsidies per acreage. Naturally, this is an incentive to switch to organic farming."
The president of Saanen farmers has a slightly critical opinion of the move towards more organic farms and suggests that we should consider this: “If all farms were to suddenly change, we’d have a problem. Demand must keep pace with production." Having more organic farms can only be sustainable if consumers are actually buying more organic products.
More openness, thanks to tourism
But Ernst Flückiger suspects that there’s another reason why so many farmers are switching to organic methods in Saanenland: "Many farmers are also ski instructors and, for quite some time, the region has been a strong tourist magnet." The expert suspects that this is why there are so many organic farms in Saanenland. Basically, tourism makes people more open to innovation.
Striking the balance between supply and demand
According to Flückiger, the Bernese cantonal council wants to intensify its "bio-offensive", because: "The market is growing, especially for major distributors like Migros and Coop. This is where Bernese farming families come into the picture!” At present many organic products are imported from abroad, says Flückiger, regretfully. Naturally, this isn’t very positive for Bernese agriculture. He says: "As long as customers buy Swiss organic produce, especially organic produce from the region and as long as there’s a market for it, the canton will support Bernese organic farming. However, we have to keep an eye on the situation and ensure a balance between supply and demand without suddenly creating a product surplus."
Based on AVS / Sabine Reber
Translated by Justine Hewson