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Organic Farming Research - Norway

by Anne-Kristin Løes and Johanne E. Schjøth


Organic agriculture began in the 1930s in Norway, but didn’t experience substantial growth until the 70s and 80s when growing interest in environmental issues began. In response to rising certification demands in Norway in the mid-80s, the private organic certification body, Debio, began and is where all organic products continue to be certified today. The number of organic farms has been on the rise ever since, increasing from 423 farms in 1991 to 2,851 in 2009. In the same period, the area of organically certified farmland and land in conversion increased from 2,443 hectares to 56,735 hectares, about 5.5 percent of total farmland.

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Timeline for Norwegian research in organic food and farming:

  • 1977 Research in organic farming initiated by students as a part of their MSc theses at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, UMB (at that time: the Agricultural University of Norway);
  • 1981 The Research Council of Norway (RCN) (at that time: the Norwegian Research Council of Agricultural Science - NLVF) appoints a committee to describe the status, research needs, and future potential for organic farming in Norway;
  • 1985 The first organic research project funded by the RCN;
  • 1985 UMB begins courses on organic farming methods;
  • 1987 The first public funding given to the Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture, NORSØK (now Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming);
  • 1988 Whole farm case studies initiated by the Agricultural Agreement Research Fund;
  • 1990 Economic support for conversion to organic farming and to organic production introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture;
  • 1991 An RCN-appointed committee suggests future research within organic food and farming;
  • 1992 First research programme on organic food and farming launched by the RCN;
  • 1994 Organic farming officially approved as a part of the EEA-agreement (European Economic Area);
  • 1997 NORSØK (now Bioforsk) approved as a research institute and national centre of competence;
  • 1998 Professorship in agroecology, including organic farming, established at UMB;
  • 1999 Official goal of 10 percent organically managed farmland by 2010 declared in White Paper by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF);
  • 2000 The first Action Plan for Organic Farming launched by Norwegian Agricultural Authority (SLF);
  • 2003 SLF action plan revised, more emphasis on market development;
  • 2004 An RCN-appointed committee suggests priorities for future research within organic food and farming;
  • 2005 The largest milk company, TINE, sets goal of 4 percent of milk sales be from organic milk by 2010;
  • 2005 The newly elected government declares 15 percent of Norwegian food production and consumption to be organic by 2015;
  • 2006 Three separate institutes merged to form the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research - Bioforsk - with roughly 450 employees and divisions spread all over Norway. All employees from NORSØK (about 30) were transferred to the division Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming;
  • 2006 Norway participates in the first joint call of the ERA-net CORE Organic I, and participates in four out of a total of eight funded projects (2007-2010);
  • 2008 In cooperation with the Ministry of local government and regional development, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture launched the project "OKOLØFT" (Organic lift), where 52 municipalities received funding to become frontrunners in organic production and consumption;
  • 2009 The government voted again and extended the date to 2020 for 15 percent of Norwegian food production and consumption to be organic;
  • 2009 A new action plan for organic food and farming was released by the MAF, available at: https://www.slf.dep.no/no/miljo_og_okologisk/okologisk_landbruk/handlingsplaner/publikasjoner;
  • 2010 Five out of 19 counties mentioned as frontrunners for organic food and farming receive special funding for developmental projects;
  • 2010 Norway participates in the first call of the extended ERA-net CORE Organic II.

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Government support and general funding

Norway is lagging behind its neighbor countries Denmark and Sweden in terms of availability of organic products. In 2005, the recently elected left-wing government voted for organic farming production goals that will increase the production and consumption of organic food to 15 percent by 2015. Upon the re-election in September 2009, the government extended the date to 15 percent by 2020. While the basis for this production goal is a balanced development in various sectors, covering organic livestock and a diverse selection of organic foods, both Norwegian and imported foods are included in this consumption aim. Research is regarded as one important means to increase the volume of organic food and farming.

Public research funding for organic food and farming was first provided in 1985, when the Research Council of Norway funded a project focussing on nutrient supply in organic dairy farming. The project was carried out by the Norwegian Crop Research Institute (one of the three institutes that merged into Bioforsk). Public funding for organic food and farming research was regarded as an important milestone among stakeholders within the organic movement. The project granting was seen as a result of the efforts and enthusiasm of organic pioneer farmers in mid-Norway, who had established the first advisory service within organic farming in 1980. In 1985, the first course in organic farming methods was established at the Agricultural University of Norway (now the Norwegian University of Life Sciences). In 1986, the Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture (NORSØK) was founded, with the aim of developing organic farming in Norway. Since January 1, 2006, NORSØK has been integrated into Bioforsk as the Organic Food and Farming Division.

The first direct payments for organic farming in Norway were established in 1990. Since then, organic agriculture has become an increasingly important part of agricultural policy. The Norwegian Agriculture and Food Production Board developed its first action plan for the development of organic agriculture in 1995, with the current action plan being the fourth consecutive action plan in progress.

A research programme for organic food and farming was carried out by the Research Council of Norway (RCN) during 1992-1996, with a total funding of approx. 2.2 million Euros. Since then, organic food and farming research has competed with general organic food and farming research for funding in RCN programmes. The Agricultural Agreement Research Fund (AA-funding) has funded a range of organic food and farming research projects since 1989. In 2004, research funding created by a small tax on agricultural products, called levy funding, was for the first time used to support organic food and farming projects. 

In line with the increasing project funding, several research institutes, universities and other organisations have allocated their own economic resources and labour to organic food and farming research. The main topics are animal husbandry, crop production, food quality and socioeconomics.

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Research programmes

The research in organic farming in Norway started with Master theses work by students at the Agricultural University of Norway (now: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, UMB) at the end of the 1970s.

An important step forward in Norwegian organic food and farming research was an extensive whole farm case study project (1989-1997) funded by the Agricultural Agreement Research Fund. The project produced results demonstrating the agronomic and economic performance of organic farming and studied the social challenges linked to this change in agricultural practice. The project also introduced organic farming in regions of the country where it was still quite rare. A range of research institutions, farmers, and agricultural advisers participated, and the project was coordinated by NORSØK.

Significant amounts of public funding have been used for organic food and farming research in Norway since 1990. The Research Council of Norway (RCN) has been the funding body, or the research administrator for other funding bodies. The projects have been financed by various RCN programmes, Agricultural Agreement (AA) funding, and since 2004, Levy funding. Much of the research activity has also been partly financed by the basic funding of the research institutions. 

Only in the period 1992-1996 was there a separate Research Council of Norway programme for organic food and farming research. Thereafter, organic food and farming projects have been competing with general agricultural research for funding, but organic food and farming is usually mentioned as an important topic in the calls. The CORE Organic I and II research cooperations deserve special attention. RCN acknowledges that the research in organic food and farming demands international cooperation to achieve a critical mass, and has therefore chosen to use a significant proportion of the funding for the large food program "Norwegian Food from Sea and Land" (2006-2011) for the funding of CORE Organic projects with Norwegian participation.

It is not always possible to draw a clear line between organic food and farming and other agricultural research. Projects included in the figures below have in certain cases contributed significantly to organic food and farming as well as to general food and farming.

Research 2006-2011:

From 2006 onwards, the main RCN programmes funding organic food and farming research are “Norwegian Food from Sea and Land” (2006-2011) via the CORE Organic calls and “Area and Nature-based Industrial Development” (2006- 2011). The Agricultural Agreement Fund is important, especially to cover the required user funding that is often mandatory (at least 20% of the total budget should come from commercial users).

Most projects that are funded within these programmes have to be partially funded by a commercial user, for example industry, farmers' organisation, etc. The annual economic funding for the Area Programme is approximately 5 million Euros, and for the Food Programme, 16-20 million Euros. Agricultural Agreement funding may be used as partial funding from a private user in research projects of general interest, if a commercial user is difficult to find.


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Key research themes & project lists

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Norwegian farmers are generally well educated and informed. However, an increasing number of farmers work outside the farm, often making it challenging to get their attention. Traditionally, the extension service has been comprehensive in Norway. In addition to the Norwegian Agricultural Extension Service (NAES), the dairy, meat, and poultry industry have their own advisers, who regularly visit farmers to discuss production records and management details. Within the NAES, a separate system of extension bodies for organic agriculture has been developed, covering the whole country. Some organic extension bodies are organised as separate institutions, whereas others are integrated in the general extension bodies. There are separate journals, arrangements, and web pages for Organic Food and Farming.

In addition, general agricultural knowledge dissemination systems include organic food and farming. In this report, only the systems that are dedicated to organic food and farming are described.

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Scientific education

High school level

Several high schools offer education in organic agriculture, but only one high school is fully organic. This is the Norwegian National School for Organic Farming and Gardening, Sogn Jord-og Hagebruksskule (SJH), which offers two years theoretical and practical education in organic food and farming.

University level

Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) offers an international two-year Master programme in Agroecology, through Nordic collaboration with Agroasis - The Nordic school of Agroecology/Ecological Agriculture. The primary responsibilities of the school are the development and content of a Nordic educational programme (MSc, PhD) and a Nordic research and development programme.

Hedmark University College offers a Bachelor study in organic farming. The study focuses on environmentally sound production of food, with the slogan “Clean food and a clean environment.” To refrain from agricultural chemical inputs is a challenge and more knowledge is required from the advisers as well as from the farmers. The study offers this kind of knowledge to both of these groups and the study is both theoretical and practical. The study may be prolonged to receive a Master degree at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB).

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Further reading

  • Alföldi, Thomas and Niggli, Urs; Anil, Sahin; Bellon, Stéphane; van der Meulen, Susanne (2010): National Research Priorities in Organic Food and Farming Systems and Identification of Research Gaps. Unpublished report in the framework of the CORE Organic II project, FiBL, Frick
  • Løes, Anne-Kristin and Schjøth, Johanne E. (2006) Country Report on Organic Farming Research in Norway. In: Stefan, Lange; Ute, Williges; Saxena, Shilpi and Willer, Helga (Eds.) European Research in Organic Food and Farming. Reports on organisation and conduction of research programmes in 11 European countries, Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE) / Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food BLE, Bonn, Germany, pp. 186-212.

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  • Anne-Kristin Løes, Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming
  • Johanne E. Schjøth, formerly from the Research Council of Norway, now at Norwegian Agricultural Authority

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