Agriculture supplies food to the Swiss people. But it also makes an important contribution to tourism by enhancing the appeal of the landscape. However, it accounts for a relatively small share of the Swiss economy.

Harvesting hay in a field in the Swiss Plateau.
Switzerland's agricultural sector produces food and preserves the landscape, but only makes a small contribution to the economy as a whole. © / Gerry Nitsch

The primary sector contributes less than 1% to Switzerland's GDP, which is very low compared to other European countries. Agriculture is the main primary sector activity, generating revenues of CHF 12 billion in 2022. Half of this revenue is generated from livestock farming, primarily dairy and beef production, while crop farming (arable farming, fodder production, fruit growing, viticulture and horticulture) accounts for just over a third. The vast majority of agricultural produce is destined for the domestic market, although the food industry exports certain products such as milk, cereals and sugar indirectly in the form of cheese, baked goods or beverages.

Structure of farming and changes affecting the industry

The primary sector employs some 160,000 people and includes around 48,000 farms which manage an area of 22 hectares of land on average. The structure of farming has changed significantly in recent decades: in 1996, the sector employed over 200,000 people and boasted 80,000 farms. The number of employees and farms is now decreasing, although the number of agribusinesses with over 30 hectares is increasing. In 2022, around two thirds of farms specialised in livestock farming. Over half of Switzerland's million hectares of agricultural land consists of natural meadows and pastures, while arable land is mainly used to grow cereals, maize and rapeseed.

In the last 20 years, there have also been changes in the way the land is farmed, with various government incentive schemes encouraging farmers to switch from intensive to extensive farming. Organic farming has grown steadily in recent years. In 2022, almost one in six farms was organic. The proportion of organically farmed land in Switzerland is almost twice as high as the European average. According to BioSuisse, organic products account for over 10% of the entire Swiss food market.

Landscape conservation and food security

The benefits of Swiss agriculture are not purely economic. The agricultural sector uses around half of the surface area of the country and thus contributes to protecting and preserving natural resources and the countryside. It also essential to ensuring decentralised settlement of the land and animal welfare. Swiss farmers also produce over 50 % of the food consumed in Switzerland and therefore help to safeguard national food security. A properly maintained landscape also promotes and boosts tourism.