Farming in Norway
Norwegian producers champion agriculture
Norwegian farmers watch the market and weather as closely as their American counterparts, but their agricultural operations typically look much different than those of Norwegian descendants in North Dakota.
Regardless of the country, farmers deserve more respect than they often receive for the job they do in feeding the world, said Liv Høyland, who manages a sow operation near Stavanger, located along the coast in southwest Norway. Southwestern Norway is the country’s largest sow-producing region.
Høyland, who has hosted tourist visits to her farm, joined Juven Travel and Tours at its booth at Norsk Høstfest Sept. 25-28. Also at the booth was Karl Nyland, a retired dairy and livestock producer from northeastern Norway.
Nyland, 87, has made 44 visits to America to see friends he’s made and attend Norsk Høstfest in Minot. A regular at Høstfest, he attended for the first time in 1975.
Both Nyland and Høyland have been involved in the hog business.
Høyland has 1,100 sows that she rents to neighboring farmers, during which time the piglets are born and belong to the renter.
“We only rent out perfect sows,” she said.
Older sows that produce smaller litters, sows that don’t prove to be good mothers or animals that have defects are sent to slaughter. Her farm sends many of its sows to slaughter each year, acquiring replacement sows from her son’s operation.
Høyland’s farm raises a Landsvin and Zopig cross. The breed is favored because of its mothering instincts, which lead to better piglet outcomes, she said.
She employs three workers and two veterinary staff. Much of the work involves caretaking, and women are some of the best employees in that type of work, Høyland said.
Høyland said she didn’t grow up on a farm but joined her husband in agriculture after their marriage. She took over management once her husband retired, although he still provides input and drives truck in transporting sows.
From start to finish, the operation is focused on positive growing conditions for the pigs, Høyland said. That mindset extends to their sow renters.
“We have contact with the farmers, so they treat the sows very well. We are very particular about medicine. We try not to use medicines,” Høyland said, adding that vitamins are used if the animals show deficiencies.
“The feeding system starts at 7:30 in the evening,” she said. “They go free so they can eat whenever they want.”
The feeding system uses electronic monitoring that captures a sow’s identification chip and measures how much was eaten, producing a summary each morning that can be reviewed to determine how the pigs are faring. If a pig is not showing up at the feeding station, it prompts an investigation into what might be wrong, Høyland said.
The makeup of the feed, generally a pelleted grain mix, varies depending on a sow’s need and stage of pregnancy.
“People think you can just feed them whatever. It’s so much more,” Høyland said of the science behind the feeding system.
The waste collection system also is automated. Waste left by the pigs falls into a collection system, where it is pumped into a holding facility and remains until eventually spread on land as fertilizer.
Høyland said their farm has been using its current operating system for the past 10 years.
Nyland, who farmed from about 1950 until 20 years ago, had raised a small number of sows and sold the piglets once they reached marketable size. Sows were taken to the boars for breeding until later years when artificial insemination became popular. Specialists in artificial insemination travel around to the farms to impregnate the sows.
Nyland also had a mechanized milking system for his 15 to 20 head of Norsk Røøt Fe cattle. Milk was sold to Tine, an Oslo company that produced milk and cheese for the market.
At one time, the farm had horses, whose jobs in the fields were eventually replaced by tractors. Through a translator, Nyland said he keeps a couple of tractors still, even though the livestock operation is gone and pasture land is rented out. His pride and joy is his 52-year-old Volvo 400.
Nyland said he loved farming because he enjoyed the livestock, especially the cows. Seeing the barns now gone saddens him, he said.
Farms in Norway have grown bigger, Høyland said, although the Norwegian government imposes caps. She said the government places limits, too, on certain commodities, such as milk, sows and hens, to avoid price reductions from over-production.
“We manage to do that anyway,” Høyland said. “We produce too much at the moment so we want to reduce and get the prices up.”
Pigs in Norway are produced for the domestic market and aren’t exported. Norway produces only about 40% of the food it consumes, making it predominantly an importing country for food, Høyland said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States in recent years has been either the world’s largest or second largest exporter of pork and pork products, with exports averaging over 20 percent of commercial pork production in most years. Hog operations are heavily concentrated in the Midwest and in eastern North Carolina. Since 1990, the number of U.S. farms with hogs has declined by more than 70% as enterprises have grown larger.
Høyland’s son raises sows on his farm in Norway, where he also grows potatoes and wheat. The crops are grown under contract and sold to a potato processor and farmers’ cooperative.
Høyland said they have insurance on the hogs and buildings but there is no crop insurance. If a crop fails, farmers can seek state assistance. Unless the loss is significant, though, the amount of assistance doesn’t justify the degree of hassle associated with applying for aid, she said.
Høyland’s farm is a member of Norsvin, a farmers association that provides agricultural improvement education and lobbies on farm policy.
Høyland said she finds agriculture to be an exciting industry with a good future in Norway. Enough so that she hopes to eventually see her daughter take over the family farm some day.