Talking about beef with Robert Aerni, Gordola

Even the President of the Unione dei contadini ticinesi (union of Ticino farmers), Robert Aerni, will be present at the beef.ch with cow, bag and baggage.

The President of the Unione dei contadini ticinesi (union of Ticino farmers), Robert Aerni, will be present at the beef.ch with cow, bag and baggage. (Photo: zVg)

From 10 to 12 March, the beef.ch will take place for the first time in the Ticino on the occasion of the « Fiera di San Provino » in Agno. What does this popular celebration represent for Ticino agriculture?

Robert Aerni: As only about 1% of people work in the primary sector, agriculture is less important in the Ticino than the rest of the country (where the average is 3.3 %). 97 % of visitors to the « Fiera di San Provino » don’t come from the farming world, so this festival offers us a unique opportunity to raise their awareness of agriculture and love of the land, and to bring them closer to the farmer who cultivates it. Naturally we’d be happy if this effort bore fruit and had an impact on future consumption and voting habits.

Is suckler cow breeding common in the Ticino?

Robert Aerni: There aren’t many owners of suckler cows in the Ticino. But as agricultural land on the plains is increasingly rare, keeping suckler cows is a very good alternative for Ticino farmers, especially in the valleys. However one must be careful in the choice of breed. It should be suited to the geographical location and the agricultural policy, which focuses increasingly on extensive and ecological agriculture. In fact, our breed is not ideal.

You keep Charolais cows. Why is that, if you consider that they aren’t ideal?

Robert Aerni: We have kept mother cows for about 40 years; so we were pioneers. We come from the Bernese Jura originally and that’s probably why we chose Charolais. We liked these white cows from France. But the political context and market needs have changed considerably. You have to factor this in today if you want to convert to keeping suckler cows.

Will you be on hand at the beef.ch in Agno?

Robert Aerni: Of course! As a member of the organising committee, I will naturally help with the assembling and dismantling process, and I will be available for anything that needs doing. What’s more we’re going to show one of own cows with her calf. I also hope to find time to enjoy the festivities with my children.

In Gordola, Robert Aerni, - together with his wife Simona, his brother David and two employees - manages a farm with 150 ha of utilised agricultural land. On 65 ha they grow maize, corn, soya and grass. Some 55 ha are permanent meadows and pastures, and 30 ha are set aside for ecological compensation. They own a herd of 220 Charolais cattle (including 100  suckler cows). The farm has met organic farming requirements since 2017.

In the media, Robert Aerni is known not only as President of the Unione dei contadini ticinesi but also in connection with the occasional floods in the Magadino plain, which turn the farm into an island. For the curious, here are a few photos dating from November 2014