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Facts and figures

Farming in the Emmental (in new window)

Farming in the Emmental©

Haymaking on the Älggialp, Canton Obwalden (in new window)

Haymaking on the Älggialp, Canton Obwalden© Priska Ketterer / SNSF

Agriculture is such an important part of Swiss life that its role is enshrined in the country's constitution. It exists not merely to produce food; it also has the duty of preserving the countryside and to ensuring that decentralized regions remain inhabited.

However, although many people still view Switzerland as a country of farmers and cows, the percentage of people working in agriculture and the size of farms is very much around the European Union average. About four per cent of the working population is employed in agriculture and forestry, and the number continues to fall.

According to figures gathered in 2009, Switzerland has some 1,055,684 ha (2,608,652 acres) in agricultural use. The size of the average farm was 21.5 hectares (52 acres), up from 11.5 (28.42 acres) in 1990. There is a marked trend towards fewer and larger farms. In 2009 the total number of farms was 44,992, a drop of 47% since 1990 (92'815 farms).

Three quarters of the farmed area in Switzerland is devoted to meadows and pastures, as both climate and terrain make most of the country unsuitable for crops. Cereals and vegetables are limited to the lowlands. About one third of farms are engaged in crop production.

In Switzerland, which is known as the land of cows, the cattle population (2010: 1,591,233, of which 700'315 are cows) and pig population (2010: 1,588,998) are nearly the same size. In addition, the chicken population amounted to 8,943,676 birds in the same year.

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