Bad weather

Two years in a row led us to think that the greenhouse effect means that summers in Finland are ideal for holidays but a little too dry for farming. This summer shows that it is not as simple as that: First we had a dry spring which meant that only cereal fields that were sown early enough sprouted normally and got a good start while the rest – and that means most – didn’t sprout until the first rain came along a few weeks later. Then we got a rainy and relatively cool summer – which definitely was not ideal for holidays – and meant slow development of the crops. (Personally I was in the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland most of July with day-temperatures between 12-15 C. So not too warm but that is not why you go in that direction anyway. Have a look at my picture blog.)

So now it is already September and only a fraction of the cereals have been harvested. Nothing has been lost yet but if it rains too much we loose quality and in the worst scenario the farmers will not be able to harvest. Well – we are hoping for an Indian summer…

On Monday and Tuesday we were driving around ‘Pohjanmaa’ on the Finnish west coast, the weather was half-cloudy and nice and harvesters were to be seen almost on all fields. But it was mainly barley and some rye that was harvested: wheat and oats still have to wait. So not much to be said about availability or prices of organic milled products yet (oat flakes, wheat flour etc). Of course the weather has the same effect on the other crops: potato, rape seed and even wild berries. Everything is a few weeks late.

Organic Oats 2007 crop

Of the organic cereals grown in Finland oats are by far the most important. According to Evira statistics organic oats was grown on 19.583 ha in Finland which is only 300 ha more than in 2006. However the total yield might be double 2006 due to the record low harvest that year. But is this enough? I am afraid not. The dynamism of the market is difficult to grasp and therefore nobody seems to know how much will enter the market. Part of the harvest is fed to animals on-farm or sold to neighbors for that purpose. Part of the crop is harvested on small farms and there is no point in transporting it over any distance. For the organic oats that does enter the market there are several buyers, some trading it to the domestic industry but most looking at the export market. Helsinki Mills is buying directly from farmers trying to capture as much of the oats as possible for processing in Finland. So the farmers situation should be quite good. The prices have increased to levels that have not been experienced before during Finland’s EU membership. Prices are up to 2,5 times higher than in 2005. So there should be an incentive for more farmers to go organic. Also conventional oats (as all cereals) price is increasing but nevertheless the price difference is a healthy 100+ €/t.

Sweden, Germany and Canada seem to have experienced average oat harvests on similar acreage as 2006. The main problem would seem to be that the market is growing strongly but production is not. We need more organic farmers. The interesting question which remains to be seen is how farmers react to this clear market signal. If farmers consider converting to organics they will naturally be wondering what the organic oats price will be in 2010. Who can tell? In the meantime we are unfortunately not able to meet the demand.

Berries in Suomussalmi

Kiantama Ltd is the berry company in the Organic Food Finland group.It is situated in Suomussalmi, which is quite far north from a Helsinki perspective but actually not even in Lapland. In August we visited Kiantama with Selina Gan, our great customer from Malaysia. And we also went berry-picking to see for ourselves what lingonberries and bilberries look like in real nature. The lingonberries were just ripe and red at the time – this was end of August – but the bilberry leaves show already the colors of autumn.

Look at more of my berry picture at “Villit Kuvat