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Country report Finland 2009

Sampsa Heinonen, Evira

1 Agriculture in Finland

1.1 Finland – the world’s northernmost agricultural country

As Finland is located between the 60th and 70th latitudes, it is one of the northernmost countries in the world. This geographical location determines the conditions for agriculture.

In southern Finland, the growing period is about 170 days and in northern Finland about 130 days. The grazing period is 120 days at the most. Agricultural production is further restricted by annual variations in growing conditions, frost and problematic drainage. The harsh climate also provides advantages: Cold naturally restricts the incidence of pests and reduces the need for pesticides. The northern latitudes enhance the production of savoury plants that contain a lot of Vitamin C and sugars.

Almost one third of the 5.2 million population of Finland lives in rural areas. Most Finns want to keep rural areas inhabited and properly managed, and to ensure that agriculture can continue on a viable basis.

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1.2 General structure of agriculture in Finland

Finnish agriculture is based on family farms, and the farm size is relatively small. The average agricultural area of a farm is about 33 hectares (2006). Forests are an integral part of Finnish farms, and the average forest area of farms is about 60 hectares.

The structure of agriculture has been influenced by many historical and social factors. The origin of the small farm size can be traced back to the period before and after the Second World War. The tenant farmers were given ownership of their holdings at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Second World War, about 140,000 new farms were established for the population evacuated from the areas ceded to the Soviet Union and for veterans. All this fragmented the farms into small units.

Today, the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product is 1.0 percent (2005), but the share of the labour force employed in agriculture is still as high as five percent. On average, only about half of the income of farm families comes from agriculture; the other half originates from farm forestry (usually ten to 15 percent of the income) and from income earned outside the farm.

Agricultural production is mainly based on animal husbandry. About 80 percent of the agricultural area is used as pasture or for arable fodder cropping. About 25 percent of the farms are dairy farms, seven percent beef cattle or other types of cattle farms, five percent pig farms and one percent poultry farms. Although milk is produced all over the country, the main production areas are Ostrobothnia, northern Savo and northern Karelia. Cattle production is the main form of production in Central Finland and Ostrobothnia, and pig and poultry production is mainly concentrated in the west and south.

About 58 percent of farms have crop production as their major production activity. Bread grains (wheat and rye) are cultivated on about ten percent of the arable land, and about nine percent is under other special crops, potatoes, sugar beet, etc. Cereal production is mainly located in southern and south-western Finland and to some extent in Ostrobothnia. In average years the yields in fodder units vary from 3,500 fodder units per hectare in south-western Finland to 1,300 fodder units per hectare in northern Finland. Variations in the yields from one year to another are high.

The horticultural area is about 16,000 hectares. The cultivation of berries is mainly located in Central and Eastern Finland. Climatic conditions restrict the cultivation of apples to the Åland Islands and south-western Finland.

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2 History and development of organic agriculture

2.1 Development in the Footsteps of a Nobel Prize Laureate

The first form of organic agriculture (“Natural Agriculture”) of the Life Reform movement in Finland can be traced back to the 1910s. First experiments with bio-dynamic farming were carried out around this time, and the first farm was started in 1927. The Finnish Bio-dynamic Society was founded in 1946.

However, biochemist and professor A.I. Virtanen can be considered the pioneer of organic farming in Finland. During the 1930s, Virtanen developed the AIV-System, a cultivation method which included crop rotation with intensive red clover leys and pastures and bread grains. Silage was made from clover based leys using a new method, the idea of which was rapidly to decrease the acidity of the clover silage to under pH 4 with mineral acids, in order to preserve the silage properly. Professor Virtanen was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1945 for this pioneering method, which still forms the basis for silage making in northern climatic conditions. In his day, Professor Virtanen was known as one of the world's leading biochemists and especially as a leading researcher in biological nitrogen fixation.

The AIV-System was a normal practice on dairy farms until the early 1960s, when the level of use of nitrogen fertilisers was still low. The average use of nitrogen fertilisers in Finland was only 19 kilograms per hectare in 1959, but reached its highest level of 112 kilograms in 1989! Thanks to the effective Agro-Environment Programme, the use of nitrogen fertilisers has decreased to 74 kilograms per hectare today (2006).


Biodyn.fi: Finnish Bio-dynamic Society

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2.2 Pioneer phase before the 1990s

The first organic farms still in existence today were converted in the 1960s, but the number of organic farms amounted to only a couple of dozen until the 1980s. It goes without saying that these pioneers – although many of them were economically as successful as conventional farmers – had ideological motivations for converting their farms.

During the 1980s, specialised marketing channels came into operation. In 1989, the year before the state programme of financial support for conversion to organic was launched; there were 373 certified organic farms.


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2.3 Subsidy-driven 1990s

Mainly due to financial support made available for conversion, the number of organic farms increased to 671 in 1990 and to 1,818 by the year 1994. EU membership from the beginning of 1995 brought a new wave of farms converting to organic farming. The number of organic farms rose to 2,793 in 1995 and to 4,452 in 1996.

The goal of 120,000 hectares in organic farming set by the first Agri-Environment Programme for the years 1995 to 1999 was already reached in 1998. In terms of the number of organic farms and certified organic areas, Finland became one of the leading countries in organic farming in Europe.


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2.4 Slowdown in 2000s

During the Agenda 2000 period, the payment rates have favoured less intensive regions and types of organic production. In addition, the market situation for organic cereals has been a factor in a major geographical shift in organic production. This has resulted in a major decrease in southern and western regions, while eastern regions remain at the level of the late 1990s. The unit size in organic animal production has grown rapidly, but until 2005 the number of organic units remained at the level of the late 1990s.


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3 Statistics on the growth of organic hectares and farms

3.1 Organically managed land

In 1989, certified organic land represented 0.1 percent of the agricultural land of Finland. Five years later, in 1994, organic farmland constituted 25,822 hectares, representing 1.1 percent of agricultural land. In 2008, organically managed land constitutes about 150,400 hectares, of which more than 135,000 hectares were converted.

The average farm size has grown constantly. In 1990, the average amount of organic land (including conversion land) per farm was 10.1 hectares. In 2006, it was 36.5 hectares. The average size of organic farms is thus five percent larger than the average size of all farms in Finland.

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3.2 Regional distribution of organic farms

South Savo and Ostrobothnia can be regarded as the main pioneering regions for organic farming in Finland. Organic farming was one of the core ideas of the ‘eco province’ of south Savo in the 1980s. That is the main reason why many organic organisations are located in the region.

At the moment the main areas of organic farming can be found in the southern, south-western, and western parts of Finland, but the fastest development is taking place in eastern Finland.


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4 Organic agriculture organisations

4.1 Producer organisations

The Finnish Association for Organic Farming Luomuliitto ry , was founded in 1985 to act as an umbrella organisation for producer and other organisations promoting organic agriculture. At the end of 2000, Luomuliitto had 25 member organisations representing about 3,600 members. Most member organisations of Luomuliitto are regional producer organisations, but there are also other national organisations like the Finnish Biodynamic Association . The field of operation of Luomuliitto includes promotion of organic farming, standards development, market development, publishing (e.g. magazine Luomulehti) and certification.

Luomuliitto ry has approved standards for organic agriculture since 1986. At the moment standards include plant production, wild products, livestock production, bee keeping, food processing and farm inputs. Luomuliitto certifies to its own standards, but these are based on the inspection reports generated by the public authorities.


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4.2 Organic production

4.2.1 Plant Production

The total organic grain harvest in 2006 was about 75 million kilograms, of which 7 million kilograms rye, 10 million kilograms wheat, 35 million kilograms oats, 11 million kilograms barley and 12 million kilograms mixed grain.


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4.2.2 Collected wild products

There is a specialised certification system for organic wild products in Finland. In 2005 the most popular products were lingon berries (74 tonnes) and blueberries (13 tonnes); see info about these berries at the Finnish Forest Research Institute). The collection area, mostly in the northern and eastern part of Finland, is about 9 million hectares. The share of certified organic wild berries was about 1% of all collected wild berries in Finland.


METLA.fi: Finnish Forest Research Institute


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4.2.3 Food processing

In August 2005 there were 408 registered food processors, packers and traders covered by the certification systems (Table 6).

 Table 6. Number of certified processors, packers and traders in organic production in August 2005


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5 Standards and certification, state regulations

5.1 Legislation and certification system

A nationwide inspection system for organic production was first established by The Finnish Association for Organic Farming Luomuliitto ry ,. In 1986 production standards for plant production were adopted and a first certification committee founded. Standards for animal production were adopted in 1988 and standards for food processing in 1989. In July 1994, the responsibility for organising the inspection of organic plant production was given to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.


Luomo-Liitto.fi: Union of Organic Farming

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5.2 Control of agricultural production and food processing

Finland has been a member of the EU since 1995 and therefore has to implement Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91. Presently the Council Regulation is implemented by Statute No 336/2005 of the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The approval of a farm for entry in the register of organic production is decided by the regional Rural Departments of Employment and Economic Development Centres. (Employment and Economic Development Centres form a joint regional service organisation of three ministries.) The 15 Rural Departments are thus regional units of rural administration, working under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira certifies processors, packers and third country importers. Evira also keeps the national register of all organic farm operators and co-ordinates the inspection work of the Rural Departments.

The private certification bodies Luomuliitto ry and the Finnish Biodynamic Association certify according to their own organic standards, but these are based on the inspection reports generated by the public authorities.


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5.3 Authorities responsible for inspection

The state authority in charge of the implementation of the inspection system laid down in Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 is the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira (under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.)

The EU inspection bodies are the Rural Departments of the Employment and Economic Development Centres (FI-A), the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira (FI-B), the National Product Control Agency (Tuotevalvontakeskus) (FI-C) and the Provincial Government of Åland (Ålands landskapsstyrelse) (FI-D).

There are also two private certification bodies: Luomuli itto ry and the Finnish Biodynamic Association.

Monitoring in respect of the marketing of organic food is carried out as integral part of overall Finnish food control and is co-ordinated by Evira. The monitoring of processing and marketing of organic alcoholic beverages is the task of the National Product Control Agency.

Due to the unique autonomy of the Åland Islands, it is the Provincial Government of the Åland Islands which organises the inspection board and the register of organic farming.


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5.4 Certification labels and private certifiers

The state label Luomu – Valvottua tuotantoa /Kontrollerad ekoproduktion (Certified Organic Production) is granted by Evira to operators whose products have been inspected by the Finnish inspection system.

The Ladybird quality logo is owned and administered by the Finnish Association for Organic Farming Luomuliitto ry,. It is granted to farmers, food processors and farm input manufacturers producing organic products according to the quality standards of Luomuliitto. The standards are additional to the Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 and consist of compulsory requirements and recommendations. The compulsory requirements include membership of Luomuliitto and production based on quality management system (ISO9001 or equivalent). Furthermore, it is required that all animal manure used for growing products intended directly for human consumption must be composted. The basic ingredients of processed products must be 100 percent of Finnish origin and at least 75 percent of ingredients in total. It is recommended that 100 percent of animal feeds are of Finnish origin. The logo is mainly used on vegetables.

The Finnish Biodynamic Association administers the use of the international Demeter label for bio-dynamic products. The association has its own standards for Finnish bio-dynamic production based on the international standards for bio-dynamic agriculture.

Additional certification of organic grains and potato products according to the United States Department of Agriculture National Organic Program has been organised by a private association called Luomutuotannon edistäjät. The group certificate has been granted by SGS Nederland.


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6 Conversion aid for organic farming

Finland introduced the first conversion aid scheme for organic agriculture in 1990. Between 1990 and 1994, 1,443 farms with an area of 26,000 hectares converted to the scheme.

During the first years of Finland’s EU membership the producer price index fell by 26 percent, which caused serious problems especially in conventional grain production. Many farmers began to look for alternatives. Organic farming was one of the most important ones.

Special payments to organic farming in the form of conversion payments and organic production payments are part of the Finnish Agri-Environmental Program (FAEP) and its Supplementary Protection Scheme (SPS), implemented first in 1995. Since 2007 the support is 141 €/ha/year. The support is the same for the conversion and certified organic area. In addition, the support for organic animal production is 126 €/ha/year. The contracts are made on a five year basis.


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7 Training

Academic courses and training for advisors for organic farming are concentrated at the R uralia Institute of the University of Helsinki, situated in Mikkeli. The Centre offers courses in organic production ranging from two to 20 study weeks.

Courses from one to five days and a longer training in organic farming are given by agricultural schools all around the country. A minimum of a five-day-course is required by farmers who applied for financial support for conversion to organic farming.


University Helsinki.fi: Institute for Rural Research and Training Mikkeli Unit

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8 Advisory Service

The advisory service for organic farming is coordinated and developed by the Association of Rural Advisory Centres. Practical advisory work is carried out by 17 regional advisory centres, which have about 80 advisors specialised in organic farming, usually in plant production. About 20 of the advisors are employed full-time for organic farming.

In addition to the Rural Advisory Centres, the Finnish Biodynamic Association, the Horticultural Association and the Finnish 4H-Federation have advisory services for organic farming.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry subsidises advisory work annually with about 0.5 million EUR.


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9 Research

In Finland, research for organic agriculture covers practically all aspects of organic production, although the emphasis is clearly on plant production. The annual budget of the research work is about 3 million EUR, of which the share of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is about a half.

 Research in organic farming is one of the activities of the Agricultural Research Centre of Finland (MTT) and is carried out in a number of MTT research units but most notably in the research centre of Mikkeli, in southeast Finland. The research on organic production is focused on nutrient economy, production techniques and local food systems.

The Ruralia Institute of the University of Helsinki in Mikkeli is continuously carrying out research projects in organic production.

 The networked National Food Expertise Centres (the ELO Network) – especially Ekoneum in Mikkeli – have research and product development projects. In addition there are dozens of research and development projects financed by the state and the EU and administered by the regional Employment and Economic Development Centres. A comprehensive list of ongoing and completed projects can be found on the website of Ekoneum.


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10 The market

10.1 Development and marketing channels

During the 1980s, farm gate sales and local market places used to be the main marketing channel for potatoes and vegetables. Cereals were marketed through wholetraders specialised in organic products, and through local mills and small bakeries. Production of organic animal products was almost non-existent before the 1990s, and the pioneers generally started marketing the products by direct selling. Attempts to establish stores specialised in organic food have not been successful in Finland, and even today only the biggest cities have one or two organic food stores, although even smaller towns have outlets, especially in market halls.

Attempts to sell domestic organic produce to supermarkets largely failed in the late 1980s due to short supply of the produce. Therefore most common organic articles at supermarkets were of foreign origin.

It was only the rise of organic agriculture during the 1990s that started the development of a proper market. Now almost 90 percent of the produce is marketed through supermarkets and the rest through farmers markets or market halls, farm outlets and special shops.

The market share of certain organic products in supermarkets has been calculated since August 1999 (Table 7). The annual increase from 2001 to 2005 was about 10%, fresh milk being the main driving force. There has been a fall in sales of most vegetables, fresh bread and other grain products, but at the same time there has been a remarkable increase in sales of, for example, eggs and vegetable oils.In 2006, the retail sales of organic products was around 60 million EUR, which counts for total market of 0.8 percent.

 Table 7: Share (percentage) of organic products as a proportion of total retail sales in August 2006 (for vegetables October-December 2005)

 Graph: Share (percentage) of organic products as a proportion of total retail sales in August 2006 (for vegetables October-December 2005)
Source: A.C. Nielsen Finland Ltd., Graph: FiBL

 The state funded Organic Food Promoter Association (Finfood – Luomu) for organic products was set up in 1998.

Since 1997 there have been sizeable exports of cereals to France, Italy, Great Britain, Germany and Denmark. The annual volume of exports of cereals (mainly oats) has been around 15 million kg. Exports of processed products are still small, although the range of products is considerable, including liquorice and other confectionary, potato (starch) flour, wild berries, herbs, etc.

In September 2004 a new group of companies merged to form an export group called Organic Food Finland. It is specialised in organic food from Finland and manages the export of organic goods from eight participating companies. In February 2007 the group launched a joint brand Napapiiri Organics for organic food exports from Finland.


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10.2 Professional kitchens

Professional kitchens are increasingly interested in organic products. In Finland, there are over 200 professional kitchens from nurseries to high quality restaurants that use organic products daily. Professional kitchens can begin using organic products in stages following a "Step by Step Towards Organic" training program. The program offers a practical model for the kitchens to move step by step from using few organic raw materials to the preparation of entire organic meals. However, kitchens marketing organic meals must apply for organic certification.


Firstratesearch.com: Step by Step Towards Organic


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10.3 Consumer attitudes towards organic products

A study conducted in 2005 showed that 20 percent of Finnish consumers buy organic food regularly and 41 percent occasionally. These regular and occasional users are responsible for about 80% of organic food sales in Finland. Four percent of these consumers are regarded as high level users, meaning that organic products form 6 to 100% of their food purchases. Medium level users (16% of the consumers) buy from 1 to 6 percent of their food from organic sources.

The most common reasons for the consumption of organic products were: good taste, absence of residues and other health related reasons, animal welfare and environmental reasons.

Organic production has lost some of its novelty value in the eyes of consumers, and many consumers consider that the price/quality ratio of the organic produce is not good enough.

The European food scares of the late 1990s and early 2000s do not seem to have increased awareness among people in Finland the way they did abroad. This coincided with the arrival of the German retail chain Lidl, which has forced the established Finnish retailers to improve their own low-price schemes and retail outlets. This has left little room for the development of organic food supply at supermarkets but has given a boost to the special marketing channels of organic produce. After the slight economic recession in the early 2000s consumers now seem to put more emphasis on food prices rather than on quality.


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11 Challenges and outlook

The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry published an agricultural strategy for the period 2000-2010 in October 2001. The strategy set down the objective that 15 per cent of arable land would be under organic production by the year 2010 and the support scheme would allow an annual growth in the share of organic land as a proportion of total arable land by one percentage point. Organic production would be promoted through active development of the marketing, processing and distribution channels. In addition, special attention would be given to promoting organic livestock production.

The strategy that followed on from this one, the “Government Report on Agricultural Policy in Finland” published in October 2005, does not mention any precise goals; however, the above mentioned measures for further development of organic production remain.

Since 2005 a new payment scheme for organic animal farms has provided a clear boost to the sector and the proposed payment rates and conditions for the years 2006 -2013 are expected to start a new era for organic farming in Finland. The preliminary figures for 2007 show three percent increase in organically farmed area.

In October 2006 Finfood Luomu published a market development strategy aiming at leading position for Finnish organic production and consumption in Europe by the year 2015. More specific goals include six percent market share for organic produce at retail shops and use of organic ingredients at every professional kitchen of the public sector. Furthermore organic exports aim at ten percent share of all Finnish food exports.

Since 2005 a new payment scheme for organic animal farms has provided a clear boost to the sector and the proposed payment rates and conditions for the years 2006 -2013 are expected to start a new era for organic farming in Finland.


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12 Sources and further reading

12.1 Publications

Development of the Nordic-Baltic Market for Organic Food.TemaNord 2005:548. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen 2005. (available at http://www.norden.org/pub/miljo/jordogskov/sk/TN2005548.pdf)

Niemi, J. & Aakkula, J. 2006. Finnish Agriculture and Rural Industries in 2006. Agrifood Research Finland, Economic Research. Publications 106a. Helsinki 2006. (available at: http://www.mtt.fi/english/research/economic/jul106a_FA2006.pdf)


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12.2 Magazines and relevant websites

Luomulehti (magazine of the Union of Organic Farming), founded in 1981  
Demeter – magazine of the Finnish Biodynamic Association), founded in 1964
www.luomu.fi is the website for current affairs regarding organic production in Finland. In Finnish only.

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13 Author

Sampsa Heinonen, innish Food Safety Authority Evira, Helsinki, Finland, www.evira.fi

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Finland at Organic-Europe.net

Organic food and farming in Finland


Sampa Heinonen
Senior Officer, M.Sc. (Agr.)
The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira
Mustialankatu 3
00790 Helsinki
Tel. +358 (0)50 575 1481