Otto Alastalo of Vehmaa farm jumps in amidst the organic pigs.In Alastalo sow farm shifting into organic resulted in profit and improved animal well-being.

A sow that has lazily sprawled on the floor pushes itself up, as Otto Alastalo, 20, lifts up one of its legs.

The sow grunts nervously and runs around the pen with its teats shaking. When the pig squeaks, the sow responds with even fiercer grunts.

"It is motherly instinct. Someone took her child," Lassi Alastalo, 56, explains on his farm in Vehmaa.

The sow has farrowed on its own for three weeks, moving around freely. It is allowed to nidify and suckle its piglets for a month and a half until they are estranged.

This is significantly different from regular farms where pigs are usually locked in cages, and can barely move.

Shift towards organic

The Alastalos are running an organic pig farm, a rare thing in Finland. In terms of pigs, the farm of 34 sows shifted into organic production a year ago.

Increasingly fewer Finnish farms plan on doing the same. According to TNS Gallup Elintarviketieto, the willingness to shift into organic production has decreased significantly in all fields, apart from vegetable and berry production, compared to two years back. Among beef cattle manufacturers, for example, eagerness to move into organic production has dropped from 27 per cent to 17-18 per cent, and in pig farms it has dropped from 6 to 3 per cent.

According to the report it is likely that the objective of turning a fifth of Finnish fields into organic production by 2020, as written in the government's organic programme, will not be realised.

There are few organic pig farms

• Only 13 of Finland's 1,600 pig farms are organic.

• Last year 0.4 per cent of Finland's pork meat production was organic

• Pig farms are divided into sow farrowing farms and meat farms. Some of them are combination farms that grow the pigs from birth to slaughter.

• Consumers wish for organic pork.

• The demand for organic in grocery shops is becoming more widespread, but it has been stifled due to the recession.

• According to Pro Luomu organisation organic sales increased last year by 6 per cent, whereas in 2012 it grew by 24 per cent. Price remains the most preeminent barrier for the use of organic products, reveals a poll on organic food by TNS Gallup from last year.

• Sale of organic products grows more steadily than the sales of food in general. Within S Group organic sale grew by 13 per cent early this year. In Ruokakesko sale remained the same.

• The share of organic products accounts for 1.9 per cent of sales. At Kesko the figure is 1.3 per cent, but this does not include organic sales of K-kauppiaat.

• Kesko reports that it constantly seeks interesting organic products into its selection.

• S Group also wishes to expand its organic selection. According to Director of Assortments and pricing at S Group Ilkka Alarotu organic pork and broiler are in high demand. Organic broilers are practically not manufactured in Finland, and pork is not manufactured enough.

It seems that only 14 per cent of areas under cultivation will be organic in 2020, estimates Managing Director at TNS Gallup Elintarviketieto, Anne Kallinen. Areas under cultivation also reflect the number of animal farms, as all organic animal farms must contain fields.

"To achieve this objective will take work," Kallinen says.

"Let us hope that it is realised," briefly states State Secretary at The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Risto Artjoki.

The government has aimed to increase organic farming to correspond to consumption.

Organic growth

The waning interest of farmers is not enough to stifle the significant growth in organic farming. For example the production of organic milk and pork may double by 2020, according to the survey by TNS Gallup. This is because all production fields still see a willingness to shift into organic production. Organic farms are larger on average, and many have plans of further expansion.

Otto Alastalo also plans to slightly increase the number of sows before the farm is passed on from father to son in March.

For the Alastalos the most significant reason for switching into organic was economic. "Organic is what keeps this farm going," Otto Alastalo states.

It is increasingly challenging to make a regular small pig farm profitable. Organic pigs yield almost double the price of regular ones, even if fewer of them are born.

Shifting into organic production involves investment costs: pig farms had to be remodelled so that animals are able to move outside and get more space. What makes it profitable is that fertilisers and pesticides are not purchased, as their use is forbidden.

The hundred hectare fields of the farm include organic barley, oat, horse bean and clover for pig fodder.

The EU agricultural subsidy will see a reformation next year, as organic and regular subsidies will be separated from each other. The organic subsidy will also be increased.

The intermediate state between the two subsidy systems is one of the reasons that may reduce farmers' willingness to shift into organic, evaluates Artjoki from The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It is difficult to estimate profitability and plan ahead, if the subsidy system is not fully clarified.

Artjoki believes that farmers' interest towards organic production is on a good level, despite the bend. 95 per cent of organic farmers intend on continuing.

Alastalos are also content. Nothing could make Otto Alastalo return to regular production. According to him animals have been sick less often and calmer after moving into organic production. He believes that animals that are more content are "nicer to look at".

"This is more natural animal maintenance".

Minna Nalbantoglu – HS
Annika Rautakoura – HT
Image: Sami Kilpiö / HS