Alpine and mountain farming

Our research activities focus on the question of how the mountain regions can be managed sustainably and how Alpine and mountain farming can be further developed in the context of comprehensive regional approaches.

The Alpine and mountain regions make up a significant part of Switzerland's territory. The climatic, societal and economic changes in these regions make it essential that agricultural enterprises and value chain actors undertake adaptations with foresight. In collaboration with INFORAMA Berner Oberland in Hondrich, our research group develops solutions for the holistic and sustainable development of Alpine and mountain farming.

Services

  • Development of strategies and of forms of cooperation and organisation for Alpine pasture holdings;
  • Management plans and mapping for site-appropriate use of Alpine pasture holdings;
  • Optimisation of ruminant genetics, husbandry and feeding regimes in mountain regions;
  • Business plans for Alpine and mountain cheesemakers;
  • Total absorption costing for Alpine pasture holdings – specific calculations of product prices for different sales channels;
  • Strategies for the utilisation and development of traditional or newly developing woodland pastures in cooperation with the forestry sector;
  • Marketing strategies for Alpine and mountain products as well as for agri-tourism offers in the mountain and high-altitude summer pasture regions;
  • Regional and spatial development concepts for the mountain and high-altitude summer pasture regions;
  • Development of practical tools to simplify the management of mountain and Alpine farm holdings.

Expertise

Strategic and marketing approaches for sector organisations

  • Governance of value-adding systems
  • Marketing strategies for farm holdings and organisations

Regional and spatial development concepts

  • Natural resource management
  • Participatory development processes involving regional actors in rural areas

Locally adapted management in mountain regions

  • Schemes for grazing management and utilisation of Alpine pasture holdings
  • Site-appropriate management of different types of grassland using roughage-consuming livestock

Projects

Internationally, once-a-day (OAD) milking, which was prohibited in Switzerland until 2020, is an interesting alternative for pasture-based dairy systems in terms of labour economics in that it reduces the workload and burden on people and livestock where there is a shortage of labour or feed or where pastures are located far away.

As a closed system, a bovine dairy processing its own milk from Alpine pasture is ideally suited to an investigation, at manageable effort and expense, of the impacts of OAD along the value chain. For this reason, a trial was conducted on such an Alpine pasture holding in the canton of Grisons. Over four summers from 2015 to 2019, roughly 55 still lactating cows out of an average of 85 summered cows were milked only once instead of twice a day. The impacts on the animals, the dairy products and management in general were analysed with regard to the following parameters:

  • Milk yield, milk constituents, somatic cell count
  • The cows‘ energy provision, physical condition and weight development
  • Milk processing and cheese quality
  • Pasture management, animal behaviour
  • Labour management
  • Cost effectiveness

The change in food legislation introduced as of the summer of 2020, including the lifting of the prohibition of OAD milking, has the potential to reduce the significant pressure on home farms in mountain regions to convert from dairying to suckler cows and thus preserve the high value-added potential of specialty dairy products in these regions. For the Alpine pasture holdings, this in turn means that the environmentally particularly sustainable as well as economically and touristically highly attractive dairy farming enterprises will be preserved.

The project’s key findings were summarised in a fact sheet for owners and graziers of Alpine pasture holdings and their staff.

Since 1956, the Eggenalp long-term field trial on fertiliser use has been under way on the Alpine pasture at Eggenalp above Zweisimmen in the Simmental valley. This trial is conducted jointly by the Kali AG and INFORAMA Berner Oberland in Hondrich. The trial’s primary objective is to document the impacts of different fertiliser regimes on various aspects of the plant populations.

Analogous trials have been conducted in the canton of Valais (Orsières, Val d'Entremont) since 1984 and in the Solothurn Jura (Bremgarten, Laupersdorf) since 1972. The particular value of the Eggenalp trial is its long trial duration, the site’s higher altitude in the foothills of the Alps (1,340 m above sea level), the comprehensive documentation and the relative proximity to BFH-HAFL. The Eggenalp trial, like the other sites, is used regularly by BFH-HAFL and other institutions for projects, teaching and field trips.

The trial on fertiliser use at Eggenalp investigates

  • the impact of different fertiliser regimes on the species composition of an Alpine pasture site, and
  • the changes in soil nutrient content under different fertiliser regimes.

Approximately 80% of the quantity of Berner Alpkäse AOP (a hard cheese from the Bernese Oberland) produced each year is marketed directly by the stakeholders involved. The various suppliers position themselves in different market segments, which can lead to inconsistent pricing and undesirable competitive effects. Moreover, many market players lack the time and financial resources for successful product marketing. Together with the CasAlp variety organisation, we are developing a calculation aid for suppliers of Berner Alpkäse AOP and the extra-hard Berner Hobelkäse AOP and a concept to strengthen direct marketing.

The project has a number of different objectives:

  • More uniform pricing by means of calculations at different stages of the value chain
  • Improved quality and price awareness by means of simple calculations of costs and earned income
  • Reduced marketing effort by means of implementing good practice approaches
  • Greater targeting to customer base of the products offered

Contacts

BFH-HAFL

INFORAMA

Matthias Grossmann

Head of Alpine transhumance unit, adviser for Alpine pasture holdings
+41 31 633 80 58
E-Mail

Maike Oestreich

Maike Oestreich

Head of cheese advisory service, Alpine cheesemaking adviser/teacher
+41 31 633 75 33
E-Mail