Figs come from the south, but also grow in Switzerland. Here they are only grown in a single place.
Autumn is harvest time, and that’s no different on Andrea and Stephan Stocker’s farm in Greppen, Lucerne. “It’s an intensive phase,” says the farmer, “we’re constantly busy reading at the moment.”
But the around 160 trees that stand here in a field between Rigi and Lake Lucerne don’t have apples or pears hanging on them – but figs. The only figs in Switzerland that are grown on a large scale.
The fig trees are planted on half a hectare of land and produce around 1.2 tons of fruit per year. That’s not very much, compared to the 4,000 tons of figs that Switzerland imports every year.
We couldn’t live from livestock farming alone.
But for the Stocker couple it is an important source of income. “Our business is not particularly large and we couldn’t make a living from livestock farming alone,” says Stephan Stocker.
Conscious decision for a niche product
When Stockers took over the farm in 2012, they considered how they could best use the available land. They chose figs because they were convinced that the fruit would be easy to market through their own farm shop.
And because figs are not a fruit that can be grown everywhere – but they can be grown in Greppen: the protected location on the south side of the Rigi ensures a mild climate here.
The two Swiss fig pioneers gained a lot of knowledge about growing the fruit from farms in southern France. Nevertheless, the path to the first harvest was paved with uncertainties.
The first twelve trees to be planted froze in the winter. Stockers were about to give up – when the trees sprouted again in spring and were winter-proof from then on.
When production started and demand increased, it became apparent that birds also liked figs: flocks of starlings attacked the fruit and destroyed part of the harvest.
The couple decided to completely wrap their system with a net for protection. A costly affair, says Andrea Stocker: “We asked ourselves whether it was worth continuing. But we had already put so much work and money into the fig trees that we didn’t want to give up.”
Fresh figs have to be sold quickly
But not only is growing figs difficult, but also marketing them. “We only want to sell very fresh figs, that’s our trademark,” says Andrea Stocker. “But the ripe fruit only lasts for a maximum of two days – which means it has to reach customers quickly.”
And this mainly happens through the farm shop. Grepper figs are now so well known in the area that customers inquire in advance when fresh figs will be available again.
Stockers also make a number of other products from the figs, from mustard and jam to schnapps and balm.
However, Stockers don’t want to rely exclusively on figs. When the harvest failed completely in 2021 due to the wet weather, he was happy to have other sources of income with livestock farming and free-range laying hens, says Stephan Stocker.
Many farms want to realign themselves
Agriculture is changing: “I am receiving more inquiries from farmers than ever before – and everyone wants to know what new crops they could grow,” says Beat Felder, responsible for viticulture and innovations at the Lucerne Nature and Nutrition Vocational Training Center BBZN.
Politicians want fewer farm animals – because of the climate
The reason for this is, on the one hand, politics, which aims to reduce the number of animals for climate protection reasons – but on the other hand, it is also the social trend towards a meat-free diet and local products.
The BBZN advises farmers and makes recommendations depending on the nature of the soil, climatic conditions and the structures of a farm. “Figs don’t grow everywhere, the climate has to be right,” says Felder. “But there are many alternatives that have already become established, such as almonds or hops.” There are also initial attempts with persimmon plums.
Lucerne is slowly becoming a wine canton
Grapevines are also on the rise, especially in the canton of Lucerne: around 30 years ago, wine was grown on a good 10 hectares – the area under cultivation has now grown to over 100 hectares.
But: The experiment with the figs was worth it. The fruit is popular and demand is constantly increasing. It’s actually astonishing that no other farmers have jumped on the bandwagon, says Andrea Stocker. «We can definitely recommend it. It doesn’t have to be in our neighborhood.”