TRADE AND MARKET I NG Switzerland hopes for an average harvest Switzerland has experienced two difficult growing seasons with extra imports of seed and consumption potatoes. ‘If we don’t have an average harvest this year, I expect that the potato area will be seriously reduced next year’, says Ruedi Fischer, Chairman of the Swiss Growers’ Association VSKP-USPPT on his farm in Bätterkinden. M ost potato fields in Switzerland are surrounded by the Jura and the Alps mountain ranges. Not only is the countryside closed in by the mountains, but the market is also virtually blocked. Extra imports are only possible in years of shortages. This has resulted in a market in which the prices for the growers are high, but given the high cost price and the enormous cultivation risks, it’s certainly not a guarantee for a good balance. Growing crops, let alone cultivating potatoes, is not such an easy task in Switzerland. The plots are steeply sloping and even the most lightly-undulating fields are still quite hilly. Moreover, the weather extremes don’t make it any easier to grow potatoes. Yet, the Swiss government wants to be as food sufficient as possible and doesn’t want to depend on imports. For that reason, the government protects the cultivation of potatoes by levying border taxes and import quotas on imported potatoes. There’s an annual 3.5 billion Swiss francs (around 3.2 billion euros) of tax money available to preserve the agricultural sector. This is actually not only for the production of food, but also to protect the countryside. Because that’s very important for tourism, which provides a significant source of income. A visit to the Coop and Migros supermarkets confirms the picture that consumers pay a high price for their food. Potatoes usually cost around 2 euros per kilogram and in early May the first-early potatoes cost over 3 euros per kilogram. Fortunately for the Swiss growers, consumers are increasingly appreciating locally-produced products and are prepared to pay for them. Despite the high prices, the Swiss eat over 41 kilograms of potatoes per head of population every year. Yet, the Swiss consumer spends only 6.5 percent of his salary on food. This points directly to another problem, namely the high salaries. Decreasing number of growers With 11,000 hectares, the potato acreage in Switzerland has been steady in the past decade. Because of the changing yields – ranging from 32 to 46 tons per hectare – the total annual production also varies a great deal. In good years, 2014, for example, the growers produced over 500,000 tons. In sluggish years, such as in 2016, the production stopped at 370,000 tons. What is also striking is that, like in other European countries, the number of potato growers in Switzerland is decreasing significantly every year. In 1975, there were still 53,613 growers, in 2016 there were only 4,650 left. The potato acreage fell by around 1,000 hectares during this period. This development is an indication that the remaining growers have started to cultivate a lot more potatoes. The number of growers is expected to continue to drop even further in the coming years, as only half of them grow potatoes professionally. If we look at the end of the line, over 150,000 tons are sold annually as table potatoes and over 170,000 tons go to the local processing industry. In addition, the Swiss growers produce approximately 23,000 tons of seed. The total seed potato requirement has fluctuated Potato World 2017 • number 3 29 Pagina 32

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