Agriculture in Finland is a small, perennial, and familiar activity. With almost 70 % of land occupied by forests, 10 % of lakes, and 8 % of arable land, it has a close association with forestry and stock raising. Growing crops in just 180 days - two months less than other countries in central Europe - can be hard, but with cold and long winters, and short summers, that's the agriculture reality of Finland.
Climate change poses new challenges to Finnish agriculture. With rising temperatures, variation in precipitation will increase, the snow cover season will become shorter, and the amount of soil frost will decrease. Studies say that a small temperature increase might be beneficial for some cereals, but the final run might be disastrous for food production.
Most of the cereals are planted in springtime, with barley, oats and wheat as the most important species. Rye, and also wheat, are cultivated as winter cereals. With barley being the main crop - a harvest of 1.4 million tons only this year - and used not just in animal fodder, but to be malted and used in alcoholic beverages production. Its industrial use is exponentially bigger than in food production, with just 0.7 % of its use in regular daily consumption, in the form of flour and groats in bread, soups, and other foods.
Oats come second in volume, with a production of 1.1 million tons in 2020. The cereal is well consumed in Finland as a breakfast meal, and considered as a superfood for its health properties. What contributes to the excellent quality of Finnish oats includes the country’s cool weather, clean soil, and farming practices that include fewer pesticides and fertilizers. But only 5 % of all production is consumed by people, and around 65 % is animal fodder. Another part of the production is destined for international markets, making Finland the 2nd biggest exporter of oats.
Then comes wheat, with a production of 750,000 tons in 2020. Largely consumed around the world, Finland is not a top user of the cereal, but it is the most popular in the country. With 45 kg of wheat consumed per person, it's more than 50 % of all grains consumed in Finland. The Finnish production is self-sufficient for the food industry, and even though rye is the staple ingredient - and rye bread the main food of the country - wheat is also used in industrialized bread to increase productivity.
With an irregular production volume, rye's harvest in 2020 is only 70,000 tons - which doesn't cover the domestic consumption of the cereal, now in 100,000 tons per year. The yield of this crop is extremely variable, due to changes in cultivation areas. In 2018, the harvest was the largest in 60 years, showing how this curve is always up and down. But nothing stops Finns to have their daily rye bread, the most important food in the Finnish diet.
Let's not forget the production of gluten-free cereals, to reach the share of consumers with restricted diets. And with the development of strands, there's also the possibility to produce beer out of gluten-free malted barley. Also, in 2019 the yields of organic grains were 66 % better compared to the previous year, in total, almost 143 million kilos of organic grains were produced, the best year of all organic production ever.
With this, we see that technology and necessity are allied with efforts to make the best agricultural outcome possible. Maybe that's a line that summons cereal production in Finland, to always reach the best end result, in the smaller space possible.
Photo by Malin K. on Unsplash