In our most recent blog article Jane Craigie reflects on a recent learning trip to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Congress held in Denmark.
Jane is a Chartered Marketer with over 25 years’ experience in marketing within the agri-food sector. She is a member of the executive board of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and the council of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists.
Jane is a graduate of the IAgrM and Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programmes, is a Windsor Leadership Alumna and a Waitangi Scholar and a board member for Lantra and a Professional Agriculturalist (P.Agric). She is also a Director and co-founder of the Rural Youth Project, an initiative very close to our heart.
This summer I visited rural Denmark for the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Congress. In many ways the Danish landscape is similar to much of Scotland; farmers are dominantly growing spring barley, oats as well as lots of grass and clover and there are a lot of natural features, like hedges and pockets of woodland, field margins and riverside tree planting.
However, as you drive through Jutland, you start to see the differences in our nation’s approach to farming, such as the lack of outdoor grazed livestock and dairy cows. The agricultural buildings are spatially distant, and those that we’ve visited are highly specialised, intensively managed, pig or dairy units. And, the domes, spheres and wigwam-shaped infrastructure of biogas plants are prevalent in all rural landscapes – all in close proximity to farms.
Like anyone interested in agriculture and rural places, looking over hedges informs you about how people farm, where rural businesses earn their income and what impact rural policy has on infrastructure and services.
Denmark is firmly on the path to green food and energy production and the country’s farmers and food companies operate in one of the world’s most stringent climate conscious economies.
Pesticide taxes have existed since 1996 - fungicides are charged at 25% and insecticides at 35% - there are uncultivated, unfertilised and non-spray buffer margin restrictions on land 10m for watercourses and 25m around drinking water wells. In a controversial move this summer, the Danish Government announced the introduction of a carbon tax of 750 Danish Krone(DDK)/tonne of carbon emitted (£87/tonne) by 2025. New Zealand has already made the same move, however their taxation level is far less punitive for farming at 18DDK (£2/tonne).
Denmark’s countryside reflects this drive towards net zero, as does the research its universities and private sectors undertake. Importantly, the Danes’ innate ability to cooperate and co-invest has - and will - be important in building the infrastructure needed to reduce the country’s reliance on carbon and synthetic inputs. Denmark’s food and energy organisations are dominantly coops, Danish Crown is owned by its farmer suppliers, it slaughters 30 million pigs/year, Arla has 8,956 farmer members responsible for 1.5 million cows in seven countries, it processes 13.6 billion litres of milk/year. Both of these businesses are investing heavily in reaching net-zero by between 2030-2050.
Biogas plants are aplenty and closely linked to farming communities, many are coops; the biogas network now produces close to 30% of Denmark’s natural gas supply, much-needed natural fertiliser for the burgeoning number of ecological and organic acres and carbon dioxide for the food and drink sector. One plant we visited processes 600k tonnes of biomass annually – farm-yard manure and litter, food and municipal waste. When natural gas prices are low, the Danish government subsidises the biogas sector, however recent prices of 10-12DDK/m3 (£1.16-1.39/m3) mean that it is a prosperous time for these businesses.
Research and development is firmly focused on the future. At Aarhus University, there are trials on many systems and crops, as well as a large farm bio refinery which extracts base ingredients from plants - for example, protein is being extracted from grass to feed, in powered form, to pigs, poultry and humans – apparently grass contains 20% protein of a very high quality - including all important methionine needed by pigs.
Traveling to Denmark’s farms makes me and my fellow journalists feel like we are seeing a true picture of the future of farming - highly specialised, highly efficient, wholly cooperative and fully integrated with the nation’s energy and food infrastructure. Our own UK governments are watching the Danes closely to learn from their policy and practices; so I would urge anyone committed to farming for the long term to visit this hugely progressive and inspiring nation.