Blog Posts Ellen Huan-Niemi Agriculture, Food

Most countries consider the ability to ensure food supplies in times of crisis to be a national security issue and invest in their domestic agricultural production because of the risk that imports will be cut off due to conflicts, political tensions, and natural disasters. Security of food supply requires resilient food production and supply chains, effective international trade relations, functioning logistics and infrastructure as well as securing the availability of agricultural input. Therefore, measures to facilitate the trade of farming inputs, such as machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal feed, should be taken seriously because these requirements are crucial for food production activities to continue smoothly.

In the current fossil fuel and energy dependent economic system, food production is strongly linked to the security of energy supply and heavily reliant on fossil energy. Large amounts of fossil fuels are required to power heavy farming machinery, to process foods, to refrigerate foods during transportation, to produce packaging materials, and to manufacture and transport chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. It is well known that the revolution in the yields achieved in the last century can only be explained by the massive injections of fossil energy associated with modern techniques of agricultural production.

Finland is very dependent on Russia not only on the imports of fossil fuels, but also on the imports of fertilisers.

Finland is deeply dependent on imported fossil fuels concerning energy and chemical inputs needed not only for primary agricultural production and food processing, but also for distribution services and delivering food services in Finland. Fossil energy from imported inputs such as crude oil, coal and natural gas are mostly imported from Russia. Furthermore, the bulk of fertilisers are also imported from Russia, hence Finland is very dependent on Russia not only on the imports of fossil fuels, but also on the imports of fertilisers. According to EU statistics, Russia is the main supplier of crude oil, natural gas, and coal to EU countries. Therefore, Finland and many other EU countries are highly dependent on Russia concerning the imports of fossil fuels for their energy supply. However, EU aims to be climate-neutral by 2050. Consequently, there are plans to decarbonise all sectors, including the food sectors, and diminish the use of fossil fuels from EU’s energy consumption. Replacing fossil energy with sustainable renewable energy will reduce the reliance on Russia for energy supply in the domestic food sectors as well as mitigate climate change.

Finland is also highly reliant on the imports of supplementary protein feed. Although Finland’s overall protein self-sufficiency rate is high (more than 80% with grass and cereals), the self-sufficiency rate for supplementary plant-based protein (such as turnip rape, rape, pea, and broad bean products) in animal feed is only 15%.  Supplementary protein crops self-sufficiency in Finland is low because cereals dominate the field cropping systems in areas that are also favourable for legumes and rapeseed. It is harder for farmers in Finland to cultivate legumes and rapeseed because these crops are risky and more demanding compared to cereals. In recent years, domestic alternatives such as pea and broad bean have been actively sought and partly replacing imports of supplementary protein feed. However, the substitution of soybeans with domestic feed materials is challenging, especially in poultry feed due to the high amino acid composition of soybeans.

Diverting crops to feed humans instead of animals will be beneficial not only for the nature, but also to prevent climate change.

Most of the rapeseed is imported within the EU common market from Baltic countries and Germany. However, almost all soybeans are imported from Brazil and North America. According to the European Parliament, the deficit in the supply of protein feed and crops is also a concern at the EU level because domestic production covers only 30% of the supplementary protein feed for livestock in the EU. Consequently, 70% (42 million tonnes in 2009) of the supplementary protein feed consumed by livestock in the EU, especially soymeal, are imported mainly from Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. In fact, the growing demand for livestock feed has resulted in significant greenhouse gas emissions from land use change due to the expansion of soybean cultivation in Latin America. Therefore, various promotion measures should be used to promote human consumption of plant-based foods and reduce the demand for livestock production in the efforts to lower the overwhelming environmental impacts of land use change in Latin America, especially Brazil, caused by the expansion of soybean cultivation for animal feed. Diverting crops to feed humans instead of animals will be beneficial not only for the nature, but also to prevent climate change.

This text is based on the publication:

Huan-Niemi, E., Knuuttila, M., Vatanen, E., & Niemi, J. (2021). Dependency of domestic food sectors on imported inputs with Finland as a case study. Agricultural and Food Science.

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