Expected Developments ...
A retirement of the farm manager without a change of generations taking place is the key factor leading to the abandonment of a farm (Source: Pfronten Tourismus)
The decline of the small-scale mountain agriculture in the Alpine arc has been predicted for a number of decades. As a matter of fact, a distinct structural adjustment may be observed in the Alps, a process that mainly affects small agricultural enterprises. However, this change takes place at a slower pace than largely expected. While it is highly likely that agriculture in the Alpine arc will continue to exist in the future, it will certainly look different, and be organised in an altered manner.
The structural change will continue in a similar way. At the moment, all political signs are pointing towards another liberalisation of the agricultural markets and increasing competition. In May 2006, the European Council asked the Commission to develop and present a reform concept for the EU budget by the start of 2009, a central part of which will be a reform of the CAP (EUROPEAN COMMISSION 2007). Chances are that mountain farms will have to expect fewer subsidies in the future (SCHERMER & KIRCHENGAST 2006). The likely withdrawal of the EU from the allocation of milk quotas as of 2014 (in Switzerland as of 2011) will affect the production of milk as well as the individual farms.
Another indicator is the far above average age of farm managers in certain Alpine states and hence the inevitable change of generations. A retirement of the farm manager due to old age without a change of generations taking place is the key factor leading to the abandonment of a farm (BAYERISCHES STAATSMINISTERIUM 2002; GOSAR & CUNDER 1996; INEA 2001; MANN 2004). In Switzerland, 90% of all farm abandonments are due to a change of generations (RIEDER 1997).
In the long run, small farms will only be able to survive under exceptional circumstances (specialised fruit-growing, a secure additional income outside the agricultural sector etc.). The number of farms operating in the Alps with a UAA of less than 5 ha declined from 52% in 1980 to 42% (-99,600) in 2000. In contrast, farms with a UAA of above 20 ha increased most markedly (1980: 12%; 2000: 22%; increase: +8,354). Larger farms are mostly in a better position to deal with competitive pressure (increasing returns to scale, better utilisation of machines, income potential, amount of land and livestock etc.).
From this point of view, a moderate agro-structural change cannot be rejected a priori. It may also serve to slightly break up the immobility of land prevailing in the agricultural sector in many regions. One prerequisite is, however, that this change will be cushioned by society and not cause a radical breakdown of spatial development. A moderate transformation in the course of a change of generations or the acquisition of an additional source of income by a manager of a farm with a basic competitive disadvantage will release the required farmland for enterprises that still see the agricultural sector as their future, causing it sector to become more competitive and suitable for a continuing subsidisation.
This, however, requires a turn from the primacy of exhaustive agricutural cultivation, which, even now, does not reflect the reality in numerous regions of the Alpine arc. In this context, a more conscious and affirmative discussion with regard to the need to accept that Alpine farmland can become fallow is required (DIENER et al. 2005).