On 30 November, the Federal Council took a strategic decision on the future siting of Agroscope. The Swiss centre of excellence for agricultural research will comprise one central research campus at Posieux (FR), regional research centres in Changins (VD) and Reckenholz (ZH), and a number of local test stations. This preferred option is the outcome of intensive discussions with researchers, members of parliament, affected sectors and the cantons, and in Agroscope itself. It will enable Agroscope to pursue even more excellent work for the benefit of agriculture. The efficiency gains will release funds for more direct investment in research. The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) will submit a detailed concept and implementation plan to the Federal Council by the end of 2019.
Agroscope is currently spread across three main sites in Posieux (FR), Changins (VD) and Reckenholz (ZH), and seven special centres in various locations throughout Switzerland. These parallel research infrastructures lead to high operating and infrastructure costs, and a lack of synergies. This is a sub-optimum use of public funds. It also prevents Agroscope from fully exploiting its considerable potential to support agricultural practices, and from optimally equipping itself to deal with future challenges.
In recent months, regular discussions about the future of Agroscope have taken place between the federal government, led by Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, and representatives of the host cantons, agricultural research, interested sectors and parliamentary circles. There is broad consensus that the status quo will prove inadequate going forward. Discussions addressed the need to restructure Agroscope; the various requirements and possibilities involved were defined, and the location options considered and assessed.
Optimum solution found
An optimum solution has been agreed upon, with a main research campus in Posieux, regional research centres in Reckenholz and Changins and a number of local test centres. Furthermore, the concept envisages cooperation arrangements with the cantons and private actors. As such the successful cooperation with the Canton of Thurgau on the Swiss Future Farm at the site in Tänikon (TG) in the field of digitalisation should be further strengthened.
This is a balanced solution which enables efficiency gains (particularly in terms of infrastructure), takes account of language differences and management issues, and allows synergies in interdisciplinary research topics to be exploited. The transition to the new structure will be spread over a period of around ten years. The Federal Council’s decision also provides clarity for the Agroscope staff.
It is hoped that efficiency gains of around CHF 16 million can be made in Agroscope’s operations, money which will be reinvested in agricultural research. By replacing the savings requirement with a requirement for greater efficiency, the Confederation is giving Agroscope greater freedom to decide how it provides its research services. The Federal Council’s decrees thus respond to the main tenets of the motion submitted by the National Council Finance Committee and discussions in other parliamentary committees.
Project part of structural reforms
The reorganisation of Agroscope forms part of the Federal Council’s structural reforms. In November 2017, the federal government tasked the EAER with conducting a study into the reorganisation of the agricultural research centre, the aim being to achieve budget savings of 20%, or CHF 40 million. The first publicly discussed concept envisaged the centralisation in Posieux of all non site-dependent activities and infrastructure. This sparked a critical response among the stakeholders and in political circles, reactions which were taken into account in further, more intensive discussions on the reorganisation.