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Stefan Wüthrich: "The Swiss have a high awareness of environmental protection and animal welfare"

Interview by Erminia Ciarleglio, DLG

DLG member Stefan Wüthrich is committed to organic farming and sustainability. In Switzerland, he is compensated for this with direct payments and is subject to professional controls. His milk is paid for properly so that he can produce a high-quality product.

Mr Wüthrich, please tell us about your farm?

Our farm is located in the Three Lakes Region in Switzerland at 580 m above sea level. This puts it in the "valley zone". The main branch of production is dairy farming with 70 cows for the production of a local cheese.

  • Award winning cheese

This semi-hard cheese is called "Mont Vully" and is produced by the cheese dairy in the village. In the largest international cheese competition in Wisconsin in the USA in March 2022, the "Mont Vully Bio" won silver in its category. Incidentally, this was not the first award for this cheese.

  • Arable farming

With a partner farm, we have a crop rotation community on 50 hectares, through which we fulfil the conditions for the ecological performance certificate (ÖLN). Our part (35 ha) consists of arable grass and natural meadows. The partner farm practices arable farming with the remaining 15 ha in exchange for our land. Through this crop rotation, we always have fertile grassland for the cattle on our organic farm and the colleague benefits from the ploughing up of the arable grassland for his arable farming (also organic). We also exchange manure and slurry for straw.

  • Organic broilers

Since 2022 we also keep 4,000 organic broilers. The broilers are kept in a heated rearing house for the first 21 days. After that, they are moved in units of 500 to the mobile outdoor houses, which are "relocated" after each rotation. In this way, each animal has 2 m2 of new pasture at its disposal. These extensive chickens are slaughtered at approx. 78 days and approx. 2.2 kg live weight. The buyer is an integrator in the region who takes over the marketing.

  • Dairy Cattle

With the dairy cattle we are currently grazing on short grass. These short grass pastures are fertilised with slurry 6-8 times a year. Access to the pasture is 24 hours a day during the grazing season, only dry fodder is fed in the barn. The winter feed consists of dried fodder. Our aim is to produce milk from the basic feed. The proportion of concentrated feed is less than 2%. On this basis, our 70 dairy cows of the Swiss Fleckvieh breed have an average yield of 6,500 kg. Milking is done with an automated milking system. The rearing of young cattle from about four months of age is done externally. The use of antibiotics is reduced to a minimum. No dryer is used. We have had mastitis treatment with antibiotics only once in the last three years. Other antibiotics are used no more than about 5-10 times a year. We have achieved this with consistent selection.

Organic performance certificate (ÖLN)

The requirements of the ÖLN include:

  • Husbandry of livestock in accordance with animal welfare legislation.
  • Balanced fertiliser use
  • Appropriate proportion of biodiversity areas
  • Proper management of properties in inventories of national importance         
  • Regulated crop rotation
  • Appropriate soil protection
  • Targeted selection and use of plant protection products

In order to fulfil the ecological performance certificate (ÖLN), a farm can form a community with one or more other farms and fulfil all requirements or parts of the ÖLN together.

You run an organic farm, what is your recipe for success?

The above-mentioned cheese speciality with awards allows the cheese maker to pay correctly for our milk. This is our motivation to produce a high quality product every day. The organic broilers are a high quality niche product, since the integrator takes over this marketing, our risk remains small, "a stroke of luck for us".

What exactly does the integrator do?

The wholesale distributor MIGROS works with its industrial branch MICARNA SA with the farmers and trade partners. In the case of poultry fattening, the cooperation with the poultry producer is organised even more closely and directly. This means that we are under contract with Micarna and they take care of the planning and invoicing. However, the work on the farm remains with the poultry producer and is paid for via the live animal price. In Switzerland, this cooperation is widespread for poultry. This allows for quicker countermeasures in the event of overproduction and a drop in the withdrawal price. In reality, prices remain very stable.

Swiss farms are inspected more frequently than abroad. What is your opinion on this?

For the Swiss, awareness of environmental protection and animal welfare is high. We farmers are compensated for our efforts in these areas with direct payments. The fact that we are seriously controlled for this payment does not bother me. In my opinion, the challenge for Swiss agricultural policy is that we also steer towards sustainable intensification and not "only" towards extensification. Because for the degree of self-sufficiency it would be important not to neglect production, which is unfortunately the case at the moment.

What advantage do you see in DLG membership? Do you visit the trade fairs?

I find it very exciting to follow what is happening in agriculture beyond national borders. That's why I don't only want to consume national, agricultural media.

I have been to EuroTier many times - a great exhibition!