I have not been to Scandinavia for 25 years and suddenly I am there twice in two weeks. The first trip to Sweden was with a discussion group and the second to a European Organic Advisors workshop on growing and feeding protein (but more of that later).
Swedish Organic Sector
Whilst organic milk production now accounts for close to 12 % of Swedish milk output, and until recently they benefited from a premium of about 13 ppl. This is now falling and is currently down to about 7 ppl, they have a target for organic production of 20% by 2020. The milk market is dominated by Arle Foods who purchase 80% of the milk in the country. Until recently they were promoting organic production and apparently have up to 100 dairy farms in conversion. At the same time the consumer has lost their love for organic and demand has started to slip back.
There was much discussion about the proposed merger of Arle and Milk Link and one well informed commentator wondering what would happen to Milk Links organic pool and whether this would be exported to the Netherlands to satisfy Arles needs there for cheap milk to compete with FrieslandCampina.
Law of Un-Intending Consequences Alive and Well
I was aware that the Swedish dairy farmers are required to have all cows inspected by the vet before they are treated with antibiotics. What did come as a surprise was that this had lead to high culling rates as cows that have a bit of a history of problems are culled.
The other piece of legislation that was causing problems was the requirement for dairy cows to graze for 120 days per year, a day counts as 6 hours. This has lead farmers putting the cows out for this period on as small an area as they could get away with. At the same time continuing to feed a full ration, adding the costs associated with grazing to an already expensive situation whilst no benefitting from the low cost and higher feed value of the grazed grass.
There was a fair discussion about breeding on a number of farms and I was surprised to find that the number of Swedish Red and White cattle was actually in decline while the number of Holsteins was increasing and so were crossbreds.
Cow brushes were in use in all the barns that we visited and cows were enjoying their presence.
We visited the largest organic dairy in Sweden with 450 cows, this herd was currently yielding 8200 litres per year and was making better use of grass by grazing at night and claimed that milk yields had increased by 2 litres per cow per day.
We had a very informative day with the Swedish Dairy Association (oh for a sector pressure group). One proposal being put forward by them in connection to CAP reform (they still have historic based payments) was to increase the single payment according to the number of cross compliance issues that the farm faced. Apparently a Swedish dairy farm has 130 cross compliance issues compared to an arable farmer who has only 15. Interesting but I don’t see the Commission buying it, but with a falling dairy herd (they are 20% under quota) you can see the attraction of a system that rewards the livestock farmer.