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Factors in the decision by Swiss farmers to convert to organic farming

  • Robert Home (a1), Annina Indermuehle (a1), Anna Tschanz (a1), Elke Ries (a1) (a2) and Matthias Stolze (a1)...
Abstract

Demonstrated economic benefits of conversion to organic agriculture, combined with solutions to technical and production-related problems, suggest that farmers in Switzerland should have converted in large numbers to organic production. However, the number of organic farms in Switzerland has remained virtually constant in the last 10 yr, so it appears there are other factors that influence the decision of whether or not to convert. Several studies have sought to identify the factors that influence the decisions by farmers whether or not to convert to organic, but have found a range of factors that appear to be context dependent, while others can be seen as context transcendent, which makes it difficult to draw generalizable conclusions. The aim of this study was to identify how Swiss farmers’ decisions reflect the interaction of perceptions, relationships, policies and economic factors, which either enable or provide barriers to conversion. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2015 with 39 farmers of mixed and arable farms in the German- (n = 24) and French-speaking (n = 15) parts of Switzerland. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed according to their content. The results show that the decision of whether or not to convert relies on belief that technical problems have been sufficiently solved, as well as a range of social factors. Farmers perceive social pressure for them to be productive, but non-organic farmers often incorrectly perceive organic farming as not being oriented toward production. Furthermore, ‘official’ advice, which could correct this misperception, is sought about how, rather than whether, to convert and typically comes after farmers have made their decision. Major barriers in an area with a low density of organic farms are the lack of supply and delivery points within an acceptable travel distance, and lack of peer networks to provide informal support. On the basis of these findings, we propose that strategies to encourage conversion should be based around two main pillars: investment to create a network of supply and delivery points in areas with low density of organic farms; and actions, such as information events, to encourage dialogue between conventional and organic farmers to counteract feelings of ‘us vs them’.

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Corresponding author
Author for correspondence: Robert Home, robert.home@fibl.org
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Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
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