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Plateforme de connaissances sur l'agriculture familiale

  Finlande

Family farming has brought many opportunities and benefits to Finland’s society. The base of Finnish farming lies on small and mid-sized farms that are often family owned. Finland has a unique geographical profile with arctic climate conditions, vast forests and numerous lakes that characterize and define the farming models. Due to that, and for historical reasons, Finnish family farming is a source of innovations in combining sources of livelihood – such as tourism, bio economy and forestry – with family farming.

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Family farming in Finland boosts local economies by being versatile and innovative. Finland is an arctic country and the most northern agricultural country in the world. The population is around 5.5 million and it is the eighth largest country in Europe with an area of 338,424 square kilometers. The growing season is short; in southern Finland it lasts 160-190 days, and in the north 110-150 days. The temperatures vary a great deal through the year, and the highest and lowest temperatures range from +30 to -30 degrees Celsius. Cold temperatures and night frost in both early and late summer shorten the growing season. In northern Finland the summer has a period of night less nights, when the sun does not set at all. However, the plants cannot take full advantage of the warmth accumulated over the long day. Adverse climate is a serious handicap for animal husbandry as well. Because of the arctic conditions with the long, cold winter, the building costs of livestock buildings and warehouses are high. Additional costs are created by the short pasture season, heating and insulation, and storage of feed during winter. Cold conditions also have some advantages for agriculture, as many plant diseases and pests don’t survive over the winter.

On the European scale the country’s average yields of arable farming are very low. Almost a quarter of Finland’s area is covered by water and 86 per cent of the land area is covered with forests. Only 8 per cent of the land is farmland, and it is difficult to create larger uniform arable areas within this. Not only do the vast water areas and forests patch the land into smaller entities, but also the soil type determines various aspects of the production structure, such as the size and shape of the land parcels and their distance from farm headquarters. The scattered location of parcels causes extra costs and makes it difficult to increase the farm size. That is often an obstacle for farms to increase their profitability. It has caused family farmers to seek livelihoods in other business activities. Most Finnish farms are already in forestry as well as farming, and diversified farming is getting more popular. Over 30 per cent of farms practice other gainful activities in addition to agriculture. Small and plenty Finnish agriculture is based on family farms, characterized by a large number of relatively small farms. The number of farms was at its highest level during the 1960s. Since then the number has fallen rapidly, mostly due to urbanization. Since Finland joined the European Union (EU) in 1995 the number of small farms has decreased significantly. The amount of land used for agriculture has been at a stable level for a long time. In 2013 it covered 2,283,300 hectares. In 2012 there were 58,607 farms in Finland.

During the years 1995-2012 the amount of farms decreased by over 38 per cent. Meanwhile farms that have received support payments have increased in size by almost 70 per cent: from 22.8 hectares of farmland to 38.6 hectares. In 2013, only 2.5 per cent of Finland’s farms were big farms, with over 150 hectares of farmland. However, the size of farms keeps growing. Nine per cent of all farmland is organic agriculture, and organic farms tend to be slightly bigger than other farms. Agriculture provides full-time employment for 78,000 Finns, which is 3.1 per cent of the workforce. The amount of family members participating in farm work is significant: in 2010 it was 48,706 people. Labor that has been employed outside the family accounts for only 2,963 people in the entire country. Due to the trend of growing farms, the use of employees is also growing. Over 30 per cent of farms practice other gainful activities besides agriculture. These are often small businesses, part time or seasonal activities. The work is done mostly by the families, but it also has employment effects. Many of the businesses that have expanded their activities outside farming are active in the service field, food-related businesses or in machinery engineering. The rising popularity of local food has enhanced the success of small food companies. Many Finns are willing to pay for clean, locally produced food because they know the producer and the production conditions. The trend of local food is beneficial for family farms, and consumers’ value ethical food that is family produced.

Traditionally farms have also had forests, which have been an important addition for the economic stability and welfare of the families. Forest income is commonly used to finance farm investments. Family-owned farms, as well as other private forest owners, also make an important contribution to the Finnish economy through forest management. The forest industry is a major contributor to well-being in Finland and approximately 80 per cent of Finnish wood used by the forest industry comes from privately owned forests. The value of forest industry exports accounts for approximately 20 per cent of all Finnish exports.

Today, forests have also gained value as a source of bioenergy. About 80 per cent of Finnish renewable energy comes from bioenergy. Biomass entrepreneurship has become a new business model for farmers, supplying typically local customers with energy produced from wood fuels. Wood is a very useful commodity; it can be used to replace non-renewable materials and fuels. The possibilities in bio economy are remarkable. The green economy creates vast opportunities for farms and creates new kinds of jobs and businesses in the rural areas. Farms are being encouraged to invest in bioenergy production and new bioenergy businesses are supported. It is expected that innovations in the bio economy field will boost sustainable development, employment and competitiveness in the rural areas. By increasing energy efficiency we are also increasing the profitability of agriculture and reducing emissions. The service sector is another rising business combined with family farms, especially tourism. Rural areas that are close to cities or tourist areas, such as ski resorts, profit most from the different kind of services that farms and farmers can provide to visitors. Finns highly value the clean natural landscape, and this offers many seasonal activities – not to forget Lapland and Santa Claus – both to Finnish and foreign tourists. The tradition of cooperation is strong in the rural areas and there are numerous networks among local entrepreneurs. For example, cooperation between a local food producer and a tourism entrepreneur brings them both benefits. Also, online shopping has opened a wide market for small-scale producers. Policies supporting family farming Finnish agriculture’s competitiveness are supported as a part of the EU agricultural policy. These supports have made it possible to enlarge production volumes and to modernize production. For example, an increasing amount of dairy cattle are kept in loose housing where they can move around freely. 

Finnish rural development is based on local needs. The average age of a Finnish farmer is now 50.7 years. The number of farmers under the age of 35 has decreased, but the support given to farms in the process of generation is aimed at keeping young farmers involved in agriculture. According to many studies the support given to farms is significant in developing activities and changes. Supporting the generation shift in a farm is crucial. Up to 40 per cent of applicants for this support would not have continued their parents’ work on the farm had there not been support. This support has lowered the average age of farmers. A fifth of new generation farmers are women.
Enhancing transparency and food safety Finnish food safety is of top international standard. This has been achieved by serious, long-term and comprehensive efforts involving actors in the food chain, public authorities and scientists. Maintaining the high standard calls for constant updating of the food safety systems and proper crisis preparedness. Quality thinking throughout the food chain is one of the core strengths of the Finnish food sector. Quality starts on the farms, with farmers widely attending voluntary quality programmes, and covers the whole food chain.

Maintaining food safety obviously costs money. The Finnish Food Safety Authority estimates that entries relating to own-checks alone cost the food business operators about €188 million a year. The annual costs of municipal food control are about €26 million and the costs to the state are about the same. A high standard of food safety is, however, far less expensive than paying for the costs that would result from people or animals falling ill and loss of the special competitive advantage of the Finnish food chain. Compared to the total annual cash flows of €24 billion in the agriculture and food sector, the costs of ensuring a high standard of food safety are very low. Farms that sell their own products are becoming more common. When consumers buy Finnish eggs, berries or vegetables from a local producer they can be sure that they are safe and have no harmful bacteria. Consumers are also interested in knowing where the food comes from, how it has been produced and where it has been before it arrived in their hands. For that purpose, different kinds of coding system have been developed for different products. Eggs, for example, have an EU coding that tells how they were produced and the farm they came from. Similar kinds of national voluntary coding systems are used in meat products. A characteristic of Finnish food production is that it is done on family farms, with dedication and professional pride. Farmers want to tell consumers about their product and consumers appreciate the openness and safety this creates. The next generation Almost all Finnish farms (90 per cent) have committed to environmental activities in a programme for developing rural areas. Farms are owned by the same family for decades and therefore it is important to leave behind an environmentally sustainable and competitive farm for the next generation. In a recent study by the Finnish rural newspaper Maaseudun tulevaisuus,2 Finnish farmers see their future increasingly on diversified farms. They want to invest in production quality instead of quantity and to focus on the well-being of animals. The interviewed farmers dream of a modest sized farm, where they can practice farming according to their values.

 

This text is kindly provided by the authorities of this country

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