Seeking more open and innovative agriculture

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Swiss farmers have been reluctant to open up to foreign competition, but the new head of the Federal Agriculture Office tells opportunities exist abroad.

Bernard Lehmann, a professor of agricultural economics, has taken over one of the higher-profile government jobs on July 1 at the age of 57. He will have to convince one of parliament’s strongest lobbies that change and more open markets will be to everyone’s benefit. What will be your priority as head of the agriculture office?
Bernard Lehmann: I’m taking over at the very time the agriculture legislation is being overhauled, with a reform of the direct payment system (see sidebar), and which should become effective in 2014. Making that work will be one of my priorities.

Some powerful groups are also opposed to opening Swiss agriculture to the European market. Others believe we have no choice but to follow that path. I think we need to prepare the farming sector for these changes, and that will be my another of my priorities. But not with threats or pressure like has happened for the past 20 years. Rather we have to encourage farming professionals to implement changes to their structures, their portfolio and the positioning of their products. There has to be a desire to open the market, and less pain and fear.

Read more of this interview by Pierre-Francois Besson at:

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