Cattle disappearing from Southern Finland
EU subsidies favour other areas
Highway 3 from Helsinki cuts through lush fields in Vantaa, Nurmijärvi and Hyvinkää. In Riihimäki the Herajoki dairy can be seen on the left side. It is the largest production facility of the Valio dairy company, processing 270 million litres of milk a year.
But where are the cows?
When driving north, none are to be seen before Herajoki. Some time ago the first could be seen in Hyvinkäänkylä, but now horses are grazing on that meadow.
There are just five dairy farms in the entire municipality of Nurmijärvi.
“In five years there will be just two or three”, predicts Kallepekka Toivonen, chairman of the Nurmijärvi Farmers’ Association.
All in all there are about 250 farms in Nurmijärvi, of which only one has invested in the construction of a cowshed in recent years, according to Toivonen.
In neighbouring Tuusula there are just two dairy farms.
Anyone who wants to see cows before Herajoki needs to turn off from the motorway, at the Nurmijärvi village intersection, for instance, and drive back toward Helsinki down the old Häme road. There it is possible to see 16 cows grazing on a hillside.
The cows are the cattle of Ojakkala farm, which is believed to have been the model that Aleksis Kivi used for his novel The Seven Brothers in the 19th century.
The facilities in the farm are old. “We milk our cows, and shovel out the manure by hand”, says Kari Ahlstedt.
The elderly farmer died a year ago. His heirs have kept the cattle for now, but the future is completely undecided.
If the Ojakkala farm gives up its cows, the decision to do so will be a typical one. In the south of Finland, the structural change in agriculture has led to a collapse in the number of dairy farms. At the same time, the size of the remaining farms has grown.
The number of cows is diminishing, even though the Helsinki region is attracting new residents all the time. “Production and consumption are rapidly becoming increasingly differentiated”, says Esa Mäkelä, head of the Tuottajain Maito cooperative.
In the area covered by the cooperative, the number of dairy farms has been halved in less than ten years. The cooperative gets its milk from Häme, South Savo, the southeast of Finland, and the Uusimaa region. The Herajoki dairy delivers the fresh products to the Helsinki region.
The number of dairy farms is on the wane in West Finland as well.
However, the number of litres of milk produced has not declined at the same pace. The decline has been just ten percent.
Fresh milk is brought to the south of Finland over longer distances than before. Farms linked with Valio produce fewer than 500 million litres of milk in the southern A and B subsidy zones, but milk consumption is about 100 million litres more than that.
At times of peak consumption, such as the start of school, milk sometimes needs to be brought in from up to 300 kilometres away.
The bulk of Finland’s dairy farms are currently in North Ostrobothnia and North Savo.
Many farms are exchanging their cows for grain, but another reason for the change is the subsidy policy of the European Union. Milk production is subsidised more generously in areas further north - in the C and D zones.
Farms committed to milk production nowadays have up to 100 or more cows. Constructing the necessary production building needed for such a large herd is expensive. At least EUR 10,000 needs to be set aside for each space for each cow. This means that facilities for 100 cows cost about a million euros.
Many farmers balk at such a big investment, because paying it off requires a commitment to milk production of at least 25 years. Cows need to be tended to every day, and milking has to take place on time.
Valio is a producer-owned cooperative. This is why Valio, and Ingman have always paid good prices, by international comparison, to their producers.
For instance, in the area covered by Tuottajain Maito, the average price paid per litre of milk is 43 cents.
The price varies by season. The quality of the milk that comes from a farm also affects its price. In addition to the price per litre, the farmers are paid a bonus, once Valio’s financial result is made public.
Demand for milk has increased considerably around the world, because milk and the products made from milk are becoming more and more popular with Asian consumers with each successive year. For instance, the price of powdered milk has skyrocketed. powdered milk used to be made of surplus milk.
Valio has also raised the price that it pays to its producers three times within the year.
The worldwide surge in producer and consumer prices of milk appears to be over now, at least temporarily.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 10.8.2008
KRISTIINA YLI-KOVERO / Helsingin Sanomat