What kind of role can Finnish agriculture play as a mitigator of climate change? An extensive project portfolio rings together Finnish food production players and top teams in climate and grass research.
Participants in the CARBO collaboration network, convened by Valio, include Atria Tuottajat, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), University of Eastern Finland and Yara. The research and development projects focusing especially on carbon sequestration in grass fields are also working with many smaller companies and research groups.
The goal is to reduce the environmental impacts of the Finnish milk and meat chain using research data, innovations and farm pilots. At the same time, the project aims at improving the profitability of Finnish agriculture and its competitiveness on export markets. Business Finland has contributed EUR 3.5 million in support for the three-year project totalling EUR 8 million.
Finland wants to be a trendsetter in responsible food production, at a time when consumers demand more transparency and sustainability in the primary production of food.
Valio, the dairy company owned by Finnish dairy farms is aiming for a carbon-neutral footprint in milk production. It is possible to achieve this ambitious goal if there is a significant increase in carbon sequestration in grass fields, and if the energy contained in manure is used to replace fossil fuels. Reaching the goal also requires new technologies.
"We want to make Finland a model country and trendsetter in responsible food production. It is great that so many producers see the opportunities of Nordic nature and agriculture. For example, yogurt looks pretty much the same around the world, but the production methods vary. Here in Finland cows eat mainly grass fodder from the farms where they are raised, as Finland's harsh conditions yield better grass harvests than many food crops. In other places around the world, cows are often fed soy, which would be suitable or human consumption. We want to build an even more sustainable chain rather than outsourcing the environmental impacts elsewhere. In 2019−2020 we will work with the Baltic Sea Action Group to train the first 200 Valio milk producers to become carbon farmers," says Anu Kaukovirta-Norja, Senior Vice President of Research and Technology at Valio.
"Exploring new innovative solutions for carbon sequestration is important. Business Finland considers the development of responsible operations that also set a global trend as something that is very important," says Outi Suomi, Program Manager of the Bio and Circular Finland program at Business Finland.
Verifying carbon sequestering through research
Vegetation and soil carbon sinks are the most effective and cheapest way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In order to utilize measures that strengthen carbon sinks, a way to verify the carbon sequestering is needed.
"At the Finnish Meteorological Institute, we are developing a system to reliably measure the carbon sequestration of vegetation and soil. Having a measuring system enables the planning and wide-scale adoption of measures that strengthen the carbon sequestration of soil. In the project we are also researching what practical measures can be used to best sequester carbon in soil in conjunction with food production. Among other things, the research at the pilot farms is focusing on how the number of different grass species, the mowing height of the grass, and the fertilizer used affect the ability of the grass to sequester carbon," says Research Professor Jari Liski from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
Natural Institute Finland (Luke) and the University of Eastern Finland have teamed up to perform carbon measurements.
"Luke's central goal is to find out how farming techniques can be used to feasibly combine grassland carbon sequestration and feed production. This is important especially now because the weak profitability of agriculture means that environmental solutions must be realizable in a cost efficient manner," says Principal Scientist Perttu Virkajärvi from Luke.
"Minimizing greenhouse gases in milk production is a tough goal, but it is possible to achieve by utilizing the results of goal-oriented research work. At the University of Eastern Finland, our biogeochemistry research team has long been studying the greenhouse gas emissions of agricultural countries. Cleanly produced food is vital for people and our environment. Most important in this project is the strong collaboration with other players," notes Associate Professor Marja Maljanen.
Healthy soil binds and stores atmospheric carbon. It is also efficient at retaining nutrients so that nitrogen and phosphorus do not runoff into water systems. Multiseasonal grassland can sequester carbon. Farmers can improve carbon sequestration with crop rotation, improving the spectrum of grass species, and keeping the fields green for as much of the year as possible.
Finnish cattle methane emissions have reduced by half in 50 years with improved animal production potential, health and nutrition. At the same time, the number of animals has decreased. Now we need new ways to reduce emissions. In addition to the carbon sequestration of grass production, other solutions include manure nutrient recycling and biogas produced from manure to replace fossil fuels. The milk chain's share of Finland's greenhouse gas total has stood at 3-4 percent since the year 2000.
Photo (c) Valio.
10th Circumpolar Agriculture Conference in Rovaniemi on 13-15 March 2019 is sharing best practices, innovations and perspectives.