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Mr. Petra Hellemann
Swiss National Commission on Agro-Systems
and Land Improvement (CH-AGRAM)
Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG
Mattenhofstrasse 5
CH 3003 Berne

Tel : +41 58 462 26 56
Email : petra.hellemann@blw.admin.ch
Website : http://www.blw.admin.cj


Mr. Robert Kaufmann
Président, Swiss National Commission on Agro-Systems
and Land Improvement (CH-AGRAM)
Robert Kaufmann
Tänikon 1
CH- 8356 Ettenhausen

Tel : +41 58 480 33 11
Email : robert.kaufmann@agroscope.admin.ch
Website : http://www.agroscope.admin.ch


Mr. Philippe Monney
Swiss National Commission on Agro-Systems
and Land Improvement (CH-AGRAM)
Research Centre Conthey (VS)
Route des Eterpys 18
CH-1964 Conthey

Tel : +41 584813511
Email : philippe.monney@agroscope.admin.ch
Website : http://www.agroscope.admin.ch


Mr. Andreas Schild
Treasurer, CH-AGRAM
Agricultural Engineer
Swiss Federal Office of Agriculture


Dr. H. Grubinger
Vice Président Hon., CIID
Im Glockenacker 34
CH-8053 Zurich

Tel : +41 1 377 2724
Fax : +41 1 37155 48

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The Swiss Confederation is a federal republic in the center of Western Europe, surrounded by Germany, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. Switzerland is a landlocked country with approximately 8 million people. The highest peak is 4,634 meters above sea level and the lowest point is 193 meters. The area of this small country is 41,285 square kilometers and most people live in the Plateau (30% of the country) while the mountains of the Alps and the Jura occupy the greater part of Switzerland. The Swiss Confederation has 4 official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.


Switzerland had the highest average wealth per adult in 2013 and the nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP although there are no natural resources like oil or metals. The success is due to specialized manufacturing. Additionally, another important sector is the service sector, especially banking, insurance and tourism. 3.3% of the working people are involved in the agriculture sector.


The climate in Switzerland is largely affected by the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The prevailing winds from the west bring humid air from the sea to the land. In summer this has a cooling effect, in winter it is warming. In most areas, there is adequate rainfall during the whole year. In the alpine valleys, it is mostly dry because of the surrounding mountains. This is the case in Valais and Engadin. There, the average rainfall is 500 to 600 millimeters per year. In the most southern part of Switzerland, the Canton Ticino, the annual average is 2,000 millimeters. In the Plateau, north of the Alps, the annual rainfall is about 1,000 to 1,500 millimeters.


The temperature in January is around 1 degree Celsius and in July about 17 degrees Celsius in the Plateau. In the Alps, the coldest temperature has an annual average of -7.5 degrees Celsius.



Agricultural production is important in Switzerland with 23.4% of farmland and 12.4% of alpine agricultural land being farmed with 3.3% of the population working in agriculture. Nevertheless, the self-sufficiency rate with agricultural products is about 60%. Switzerland has a total of 1,050 square kilometers of farmland and about 4,385 square kilometers of high quality farmland. The farmland is under pressure of the construction of housing due to the growth of the population. Every second, there is one square meter of land lost to the construction of new buildings or infrastructure.


Policies protect the traditional farming families by restricting the purchase of agricultural land to only skilled farmers and preferring those with a farming heritage. Also, the maximum price for the land is restricted to allow farmers to buy land without investors. Law protects the best farmland, therefore, its total area should not decrease.


The number of farms declined from 79,500 in 1996 to 55,200 in 2013. About 11% are organic farms. In 2013, the average utilized agricultural area per farm was 19 hectares. The majority, 60% of farms, specialize in grazing livestock, mostly cattle, pigs and poultry. Dairy is still a major sector but is declining due to the low prices of milk. 71% of the agricultural area is used as grassland, the rest is used for specialized crops such as; cereals, potatoes, sugar and oilseeds.

Irrigation and Drainage

Traditionally, irrigation was used in the early days in the very dry areas of de Valais, the dry valley surrounded by mountains. There, the farmers built a large system of wooden canals from the well around the mountains down to the valley. At present, these systems, “suonen”, are still in use but there are also modern systems in use to bring the water to the fruit trees, crops and vineyards. Due to the climate change, irrigation is now necessary in more places. It is also necessary when farmers grow vegetables or other products with high water needs.


Drainage has been managed early on in Switzerland. With earthenware pipes and branches of fir trees, the farmers were very successful. Today, a great part of the best farmland in the Plateau has huge systems of drainage pipes, mostly made of plastic. This system of pipes has to be maintained regularly.


In Switzerland, a third of the best farmland has a drainage system to ameliorate the soaked areas, this equals 18% of the total 1,050,000 hectares of farmland. For 11% of these systems, the water has to be pumped.


62% of the drainage systems were built before 1960. Only 12% were built during the past 30 years. One-third of the pipes is in a bad state, almost half of the system is in a good state. The replacement value of the whole drainage systems is estimated at roughly US$5 billion. The documentation on the systems is not complete. In the years before 1960, the maps were drawn by hand and they were often not very accurate. It is sometimes difficult to find the old pipes again. At present, in most areas there are projects to digitalize the old maps and to put them in a GIS.


To maintain the drainage systems, it’s important to invest in the annual maintenance and renewal. Each year, Switzerland invests an average of US$5 million for this maintenance. There are presently almost no new systems planned, because of the influence to biodiversity. There is some consideration to close systems in the marshlands to increase the biodiversity and decrease the output of carbon dioxide.


In the years before 1960, the pipes were built in earthenware. Then, the plastic pipes were available. Today, it depends on the soil, which material is preferred.


In Switzerland, irrigation had only local relevance in the past, because most of the farmland had enough rainfall. As mentioned, irrigation in the inner alpine valleys was important because of the dry climate. Because of this, there was no data available until 2006 when research was initialized by the Federal Office of Agriculture.


In 2006, 43,000 hectares were regularly irrigated and another 12,000 hectares in dry years. The annual water demand in dry years is estimated at 144 million cubic meters. Over 40% of the area is grassland, 12% grapes and 10% vegetables. Approximately two-thirds of the water used is brought by the traditional wooden canals called “suonen” to the irrigation systems. The rest comes from rivers, creeks, lakes, canals or from the groundwater.


Due to the change of climate, the demand for irrigation will rise. To build new systems, the federal law rules that the irrigation must be efficient and ecological.


ICID and Switzerland

Switzerland is member of the ICID through the organization CH-AGRAM (Swiss Commission on Agro-Systems and Land Improvement). Members of this organization include federal offices, universities and research institutions. Switzerland joined the ICID in1951 as the 7th founding member and has always taken an active part in its activities. Current President of the Swiss Commission is Dipl. Ing. Robert Kaufmann, working at Agroscope.


Source: Mr. Petra Hellemann, Secretary, Swiss National Commission on Agro-Systems and Land Improvement (CH-AGRAM)

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