The Baltic Sea Action Group’s annual Christmas campaign collected a record-breaking 231 050 euros from 150 businesses and organizations. The campaign focused on the Baltic Sea’s underwater biodiversity, and the campaign slogan was Long live the Baltic Sea.
As usual, the Long live the Baltic Sea campaign was targeted at companies and other organizations, offering them the chance to donate money for the Baltic Sea instead of spending it on material Christmas presents. In exchange they received communications material, with which to inform their partners of the donation. The donors can be found at the campaign site, where they can be seen as different species of the Baltic Sea. The campaign site became livelier and more diverse as the donations increased!
Once again, the campaign result broke all previous records. Biggest donations were received from PwC Finland (20 000 euros) and the S-group (10 000 euros). With their 20 000 euro donation, PwC Finland got to swim on the top of the campaign site as a rare porpoise, and the S-group was featured as a legendary codfish.
The Baltic Sea is often presented through its problems, as it is one of the most polluted seas in the world. The sea suffers from eutrophication and poor oxygen conditions, and climate change is predicted to exacerbate these issues. However, the Baltic Sea is also beautiful and bustling with life under its surface. One of the Long live the Baltic Sea campaign’s missions was to honor the unique habitants of the sea and to bring attention to the need to secure their future.
”A living and healthy Baltic Sea is the purpose of our work. The Long live the Baltic Sea campaign served as a reminder that despite being in poor condition in many places, the Baltic Sea is far from dead. We are glad that this positive message of defending the sea’s biodiversity reached donors so well. Saving the Baltic Sea requires cooperation, and for example businesses have an important role in this endeavor”, says BSAG’s Managing Director Michaela Ramm-Schmidt.
The species in the Baltic Sea are unique since both freshwater species and marine species need to adapt to the water’s low salinity. Even small changes in the surroundings, for example as a result of climate change, can be fatal to the sea’s habitants. Ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity are more resilient and able to adapt to changing environments. This is one of the reasons why protecting species richness in the Baltic Sea is important.
BSAG works to protect the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity in the Baltic Sea Action for Biodiversity project. To ensure underwater biodiversity, problems such as eutrophication also need to be solved. BSAG fights eutrophication through, e.g., advancing sustainable agriculture and nutrient cycling.
Watch the Long live the Baltic Sea campaign video here. The campaign site and donors can be found here: www.jouluahjaitamerelle.fi. The site and the campaign video are in Finnish.
Atria’s Baltic Sea Commitment aims at improving the sustainability of livestock production
Atria has made a Baltic Sea Commitment to the Baltic Sea Action Group with the aim of improving the environmentally sustainable food chain and livestock production together with Atria’s contract producers and A-Rehu’s contract farmers. The commitment is part of Atria’s sustainability strategy, which aims at carbon-neutral food production.
Atria’s five-year commitment consists of three parts:
Atria is committed to reducing the environmental impact of livestock production by, for example, optimising feeding, utilising food industry side streams, improving nutrient cycling and by using the best production methods utilising data from the said research and development projects.
Atria will advance cooperation between livestock farms and arable farms to enhance nutrient cycling through improved manure application, make more efficient use of the current agricultural area, reduce emissions from peatlands, increase the production of domestic protein crops and improve crop rotation.
Atria promotes the introduction of conservation agriculture and other cultivation practices that improve the soil and enhance carbon sequestration on livestock farms and arable farms by training its own experts and sharing best practices and communicating research results.
– We share common concerns about climate change, which calls for action from all of us. Atria wants to be part of the solution and that is why a carbon-neutral food chain is our main goal. We believe that this will be possible by 2035, says Merja Leino, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, at Atria Group.
– Food chain companies like Atria have a direct opportunity to influence both practical emissions and wider changes in the food system. Atria’s five-year Baltic Sea Commitment includes both immediate actions and more research and development to promote a circular economy and carbon neutrality, says Michaela Ramm-Schmidt, CEO of BSAG.
– For the Baltic Sea, more effective recycling of nutrients and good soil management will provide immediate help. Carbon neutrality requires for example actions on peatlands and imported soya to be replaced by domestic protein crops, Ramm-Schmidt continues.
– Food contributes about 20% of the carbon footprint of consumption. The most significant environmental impacts of food production in the whole chain are in primary production. Co-operation with BSAG will provide us the latest research information and support to put this knowledge into practice to reduce the environmental impact of arable farming and meat production. We are very pleased that the cooperation has started, says Leino.
The loss of nature’s biodiversity is a problem in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Species and habitats are lost in an accelerated pace on land and at sea, and our Baltic Sea is no exception. The collaborative Baltic Sea Action for Biodiversity project, initiated by BSAG, seeks to utilize existing, comprehensive data on valuable underwater habitats to facilitate practical work for marine protection.
The habitants of seas and oceans can be protected by establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). The challenges facing MPAs differ somewhat from the protected areas on dry land. Eutrophication and the rise in temperature and decreased salinity, brought on by climate change, affect the ecosystems regardless of their protected status. However, MPAs can help to ensure species’ wellbeing by limiting additional human-induced pressures.
Biodiversity hotspots in Finnish marine waters have been inventoried in the Finnish Inventory Programme for the Underwater Marine Environment (VELMU). The uniquely comprehensive VELMU data allows us to determine those underwater areas that would benefit the most from protection. The data also shows that most of the areas with the highest species richness fall outside the current MPA network. This is understandable, as data concerning underwater biodiversity has previously been lacking. MPAs have often been established based on the species and habitats above water. These aspects of biodiversity are also important but to ensure underwater biodiversity we must shift our attention below the surface.
It is important to keep in mind that biodiversity doesn’t only refer to the number of different species. Each species lives in a way that is specific to them, and their way of living affects the ecosystem. Species have different interactions with each other and the abiotic environment that surrounds them. This complex web of interactions is extremely difficult to grasp. This so called functional diversity needs to be included in our perception of biodiversity, and it cannot be addressed solely bu counting species. MPAs that are sufficiently large in size and cover many different habitats will likely help to support functional biodiversity.
Establising a successful MPA requires sufficient data on the species and habitats in the area, as well as identifying the pressures that they face. The ecological requirements of different species, and their different life stages needs to be well understood. The restrictions to human activity in the area need to be adequate, and different stakeholders must commit to reaching the protection goals. The area must be large enough, and ideally it would also be connected to other nearby MPAs. After the MPA has been established, it should also be further monitored to make sure that the protection goals are reached.
This list of demands is extensive, which is why MPAs quite often fail to reach their targets. Too small or scattered MPAs do not offer sufficient shelter to species. MPAs established with insufficient data can lead to the protection of relatively low value areas, while areas in need of protection are left out. The restrictions to human activities in the area can be inadequate if too big compromises with different stakeholders need to be made.
Involving stakeholders in the planning process is essential to the success of an MPA. Establishing MPAs by dictating from above usually leads to resistance and stakeholders’ unwillingness to respect the necessary restrictions to human activities. It is important that the part-owners of waterbodies get to participate in the discussion concerning their property already in the planning stages. On the other hand MPAs often benefit the owners as well, since they not only provide the owners with a healthy marine environment, but also prevent unwanted large-scale future operations in the area.
In spite of the challenges, MPAs are necessary to safeguard underwater marine biodiversity. In Finland, many issues related to knowledge gaps can be solved with the help of the VELMU data. The collaborative Baltic Sea Action for Biodiversity project, initiated by BSAG and with start-up funding provided by the Bank of Åland’s Baltic Sea Project, aims to figure out the complexities of establishing privately owned MPAs, as VELMU data has shown that most of the biodiversity hotspots are located on privately owned waters. Encouraging private owners to protect their waters and making the process of creating an MPA easier is in the heart of the Baltic Sea Action for Biodiversity project.
However, even the most well-planned and managed protected areas won’t help if the surrounding ecosystem is degrading. Ultimately, to protect biodiversity in the Baltic Sea we must work for the well-being of the entire sea.
Communications coordinator, Baltic Sea Action Group
Stiftelsen Baltic Sea Action Group söker en svenskspråkig projektkoordinator för odlarsamarbete
Baltic Sea Action Group (Stiftelsen för ett levande Östersjön) är en aktiv miljöorganisation som jobbar för att återställa den ekologiska balansen i Östersjön i förändrade klimatförhållanden. Kärnan i vår verksamhet är ett konstruktivt samarbete med olika parter i samhället och att tackla samhälleliga problem på systemnivå.
Allt sedan början av vår verksamhet har vi jobbat tätt tillsammans med bönderna. Vi vill underlätta beaktandet av miljöaspekter i böndernas dagliga arbete. Prioriteten i vår verksamhet är att upprätthålla förtroende och goda relationer till intressentgrupper i allmänhet och bönder i synnerhet. Vårt arbete har berömts för sitt fokus på att tillgängliggöra forskningsresultat och utnyttja dem i praktiken. Carbon Action uppskattas också för sin moderna och innovativa approach där produktiviteten på gården går hand i hand med miljöns behov.
Vårt Carbon Action -projekt strävar efter att förbättra markens produktionsförmåga och därmed öka kolbindningen i odlingsmarker. BSAG ansvarar för projektets helhet och utbildningen av odlare som ordnas inom ramen för projektet. Projektet innefattar också en bred vetenskaplig helhet som Meteorologiska institutet koordinerar. Carbon Action -plattformen involverar ett omfattande nätverk av olika intressentgrupper som t.ex. över hundra pilotbönder, tiotals forskare, MTK, SLC, ProAgria, Finlands miljöcentral, Naturresursinstitutet, jord- och skogsbruksministeriet, miljöministeriet och flera finska livsmedelsföretag.
Vi vill välkomna med allt fler bönder i Carbon Action för att uppnå vårt mål om en allt hållbarare matkedja. Därför vill vi bl.a. hjälpa bönderna att se hur de kan dra nytta av att jobba för markens produktionsförmåga och samtidigt göra ett viktigt klimatarbete. Det finns en stor efterfrågan på finlandssvenskt håll för att gå med i Carbon Action och lära sig mer om dessa frågor. Därför har vi för avsikt att starta ett projekt under arbetsnamnet Carbon Action för Svenskfinland i samarbete med bl.a. SLC, SLF och Stiftelsen Finlandssvenska Jordfonden.
Vi söker därför nu en
som ansvarar för att Carbon Action -projektet implementeras bland de svenskspråkiga bönderna.
Arbetet förutsätter följande egenskaper: agrologutbildning eller en lämplig högre högskoleutbildning, djup kunskap i jordbruket och miljösektorn, utmärkta kunskaper i svenska och flytande kunskaper i finska och engelska, projekthanterings- och samarbetsförmågor, samt goda färdigheter i kommunikation och uppträdande. Arbetet fokuserar speciellt på förbättring av markens produktionsförmåga, kolbindning samt hantering av kretsloppet kring jordbrukets näringsämnen.
Arbetet innefattar en omfattande kommunikation med bönderna bl.a. i form av tillställningar, kamratutbildning, produktion av material, webinarier och social media. Koordinatorn jobbar tätt tillsammans med BSAG:s övriga experter inom jordbruk, forskare, utbildarna och rådgivningen.
Projektkoordinatorn kan jobba på BSAG:s kontor i Esbo eller på hemmakontor i andra delar av Svenskfinland. Koordinatorn har också möjlighet att använda SLF:s kontor i olika delar av landet. Arbetet förutsätter ett omfattande resande samt möten i Esbo och Södra Finland. Projektets tidsomfattning: 1.4.2020- 31.12.2022.
Jordbruket håller en stor potential att fungera som en central lösning i våra klimat- och miljöutmaningar. Vi ser att vår långvariga erfarenhet och konstruktiva approach inom arbetet med bönderna kan hjälpa jordbruket att utarbeta allt bättre svar på dessa utmaningar, förbättra produktiviteten på gården och samtidigt jobba för Östersjöns bästa. Nu har du en möjlighet att komma med i vårt viktiga arbete!
UN climate talks in Madrid were a disappointment. COP25 concluded yesterday with an agreement among countries to take on more ambitious goals. That agreement is not strong. It failed to resolve the main issues on the table, like creating rules for trading carbon emissions credits. Regardless of the political failure, a lot of action is taking place in the non-binding sector and the activities around soil carbon are a positive example.
During the COP25 meeting, a very ambitious and encouraging ’’4/1000 Day’’ was organized. The aim of the 4/1000 initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils, can play a crucial role in both climate change and climate adaptation. The over 30 presentations around the world brought forth a lot of promising practical action and co-operation.
At the Paris Climate Summit 2015, France presented a 4/1000 initiative. An annual growth rate of 0.4% in the soil carbon stocks, or 4‰ per year, in the first 30-40 cm of soil, would significantly reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities (https://www.4p1000.org/. The initiative signed by Finland, and promoted by the Finnish Government Programme, is ambitious. BSAG is also a member of the 4/1000 Consortium.On the occasion of the COP 25 in Madrid, on the 11th of December 2019, the 4/1000 Initiative organized its third ’4/1000 Day’.
From the very beginning, 4/1000 has been an inspiration for the Carbon Action work. It was thus a great honour to have the possibility to give a speech at the VIP section of the 4/1000 day about how Finland and Carbon Action are promoting 4/1000. The agenda of the day was: ’’How to move from pilot project to large scale change’’. This suited Carbon Action work perfectly. Carbon Action started as a pilot, funded by Sitra (2017-2019), and has now grown into a platform.
During the Day, State Secretary Kimmo Tiilikainen first told how Finland is committed to enhancing natural sinks, how 4/1000 is supported by the government programme and during Finland’s EU presidency, and that Carbon Action is important in advancing the work in Finland.
In my speech I stressed the importance of the holistic approach of the platform. The Carbon Action platform brings together farmers, advisors, researchers, companies and decision-makers. The platform contains several funders and projects and enables close cooperation among the projects. I emphasized that we need to act, do lot of things at the same time, including experimenting on the farms. To move to large scale, we need all these different actors to work together towards the common goal. The chair of the day, Wolfgang Zornbach, from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, concluded that the Carbon Action platform could be a template for many other countries in the world.
Take home messages from the 4/1000 Day
The Day was opened by two Agriculture ministers, from Spain and France. They stressed the importance of the 4/1000 initiative. Agricultural soil holds an enormous potential to mitigate climate change by storing carbon, and also provides many other ecosystem services. Spanish Minister Luis Planas concluded well: the 4/1000 initiative is now more relevant than ever.
Chad Frischam from DrawDown gave a very inspirational speech about a regenerative future. We should replace, reduce and restore. He reminded us that regenerative agriculture is nothing new. Industrial agriculture has destroyed the land, and now we need to regenerate it. Regenerative practices bring carbon back to ground, creating win-win-win-win- (I didn’t count how many wins he mentioned..) solutions. Very little negative effects. He concluded that we need to think beyond sustainability, build a regenerative future that is connected to nature.
Jean-Francois Soussana from INRA presented highlights from the IPCC special report on land. He presented different land management responses and their global impacts on land-based challenges (co-benefits and trade-offs). For increased soil organic carbon content, only positive impacts (co-benefits) were found in the IPCC report.
Impressive work of the CIRCASA project was presented by Cristina Arias-Navarro. She presented us the preliminary vision of the CIRCASA International Research Consortium (IRC). This IRC will provide a great possibility for co-operation also with Carbon Action, especially on the international soil carbon monitoring system. an interesting new report by CIRCASA provides thorough insight into the topic: ’’Assessing barriers and solutions to the implementation of SOC sequestration options’’
Cornelia Rumpel, the chair of the scientific and technical committee of the initiative, emphasized the strong role of science behind the initiative. She told that there is a general consensus that increasing soil C is valuable due to the co-benefits and contribution to climate change mitigation. According to recent studies, the technical potential for agricultural soils is limited to about 1,3 Gt OC y-1. She reminded that 4/1000 is an aspirational goal, not a normative one. It is achievable locally, but not everywhere. There are many possibilities for improving nutrient and organic residue management at farm, region and national scales.
Frederic Lambert from the French Ministry of the Agriculture and Food told us about the ambitious work done in France. He estimated that in 2019, 10% of farmers in France are implementing agroecological practices. There also has been major changes in farmers’ education system and research. He emphasized that the major issue is the strengthening of the CAP in order to respond to climate change challenges. He told us about lessons learnt: communicate widely and build on pioneer farmer’s experience. Ensure continuous political support. Make sure that markets can reward agroecological products. Take care of transition costs. Work with farmer organizations and the private sector.
Dalma Somogyi ’climate smart agriculture’ WBCSD told us about the role of companies in changing value chains. She said that there is a clear business case for investing in soil health. Whilst an investment may be primarily focused on one outcome (e.g. for enhancing crop productivity or livelihoods, climate mitigation, improving water resources, or protecting biodiversity), an investment in soils for any one of these outcomes will deliver multiple benefits (see more on the report). She also told us about the One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B), a business coalition on biodiversity with a specific focus on agriculture. One pillar of OP2B is focused on regenerative agriculture: to scale up regenerative agricultural practices and to reduce synthetic agro-chemical inputs to protect soil health. Very important messages for the Carbon Action business platform also.
There is still a long way to go for the Initiative. Further research and practical experience on regenerative agriculture is required to turn the initiative into action. But the 4/1000 initiative, and also Carbon Action are on the right track.
Move, evolve, experiment and increase farmers’ awareness on the necessity of changing production methods towards preserving soil capital and its health. It is the society as a whole that must drive and support these changes, from politicians or decision-makers, to the civil society and NGOs, to advisors and farmers, to the scientific world of research and education, to companies, and to international organisations and donors. One of the major roles of the 4/1000 Initiative is to strengthen this path and create the necessary synergies between different projects and platforms.
Laura Höijer, content director, Baltic Sea Action Group
On 19 November, the Carbon Action business platform gathered at Valio’s premises in Pitäjänmäki. The platform includes Altia, Apetit, Fazer, SOK and Valio. Speakers at the event were Juha Nousiainen, Director of Valio’s Carbon Neutral Dairy Chain, Kimmo Tiilikainen, State Secretary of the Center Ministerial Group, Jari Liski, Research Professor at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Laura Höijer, BSAG’s Content Director and BSAG’s CEO Michaela Ramm-Schmidt.
Valio’s presentation focused on measures to achieve a carbon-neutral dairy chain. The chain needs to be built around reducing emissions and removing emissions from the atmosphere, and moving from a fossil economy to a circular economy. Collaboration is an essential part of Valio’s goal, and it requires the help of numerous partners.
Grass feed based dairy production can be a part of agriculture’s climate solutions. When done correctly, it also holds potential to increase carbon storage in the field, based on research carried out in the Carbon Action project.
Other important farm-related measures for reaching the climate target include carbon emissions from organic lands, improving manure utilization, reducing animal-based methane emissions, more efficient land use, using renewable energy and investing in barn technologies. Although measures to achieve carbon neutrality are well known, accurate measurement is difficult.
Kimmo Tiilikainen talked about the government’s climate targets and paths to achieve them. Tiilikainen emphasized the importance of long-term comprehensive work in reducing emissions. According to him, instant wins do not exist. Heavy industry plays an important role in the national energy usage. Another area that needs to be significantly improved in terms of emission reduction is transport and, for example, biogas can be a good alternative for heavy transportation. Each industry needs to think about the relevant climate solutions in their field, Valio’s Juha Nousiainen reminded.
When it comes to carbon sequestration, the debate often shifts to the land-use sector and its three pillars of climate action: agricultural land management, sustainable forest production, and land use and wetland activities. These are all relevant to Finland’s objectives. Deforestation is a problem in Finland. In agriculture, solutions must be sought either through farm arrangements or by improving manure processing to reduce clearance pressure. Balancing the emissions with the carbon sinks is essential. There is uncertainty in the development of the sinks, which makes it difficult to anticipate the effects of the measures.
Jari Liski told that the carbon capture verification system development is proceeding rapidly. The first version is expected to be released in the second half of 2020. Liski emphasizes that the development of computational models must be continuous as research data is updated. At theoretical level, the calculation model developed in the context of Carbon Action is globally scalable and in line with the guidelines of the International Climate Panel (IPCC).
Although there is a great need for new and validated research, the results of recent years have shown that measures could already be developed. These measures are being tested, for example, by Carbon Action farmers.
BSAG’s speeches focused on the development of the Carbon Action platform and the activities of the company platform. The platform has been expanded with major projects such as the STN MULTA project funded by the Strategic Research Council and the MAANEUVO project funded by the Support association for soil and water technologies. Interest in the Carbon Action platform has been growing both domestically and internationally. The activities of the company platform have been praised by the participants. In the future, the group has been particularly asked to clarify the roles of companies, support CSR work and popularize research information.
The EU Common Agricultural Policy is one of the strongest drivers of land use in Europe. It is now being drawn for the next seven-year period (2021-2027) – drafting work taking place both on the EU and national levels. The CAP, and how its budget of over 300 billion euros is distributed, will have a significant impact on our attempts to mitigate climate change as well as on the health of the Baltic Sea. The EU CAP budget will be cut by around 10% from the previous period and this will be felt by individual farmers, but it will also affect the allocation of budget between direct support, per hectare payments, possible conditional incentives and the rural development support.
The CAP, now 57 years old, has undergone more or less comprehensive revisions, health checks and greening attempts before each new financing period since 1992. The greening of hectare support in the previous period was not a successful improvement neither from the perspective of the environment nor that of the farmer. Now, the EU Commission has proposed that the CAP 2021-2027 framework would make part of the hectare support voluntary for farmers under so-called eco-schemes, which would mean a significant change in the basis and allocation of a big portion of the budget. A major overall change in the new CAP is the added nationalization in the content and implementation of the policy, based on the national CAP Strategic Plans incorporating the whole policy framework and funding across the former pillars 1 and 2. The Commission also proposes that minimum 30% of the rural development budget is allocated to climate and environmental measures. On the aggregated EU level, this would mean a notable, nearly 10% point increase from the previous period, which of course has to be mirrored against the reduced absolute budget. Looking at the Baltic Sea riparian countries (or federal states in the case of Germany), no country exceeded 25% allocation in agri-enviroment-climate measures in the previous budgets.
So what is the stake for the Baltic Sea in this? What should be taken into account? How would the Baltic Sea draw up the CAP plans? Arable land covers 22% of the Baltic Sea’s drainage area and most of this is south of the Gulf of Finland. The most important agricultural regions in the EU part of the Baltic Sea catchment, are Denmark, the county of Scania in the southern tip of Sweden, North East Germany, Poland and Lithuania. Out of these, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the two federal states of Germany had the smallest RDP allocations (5-13%) to agri-environment-climate measures among all Baltic Sea countries.
Reflecting on this history, and the many and repeated assessments of the CAP not being effective and targeted enough in terms of the environmental objectives, the Commission proposal discussed above can be seen as a solution to expand the coverage of environment and climate measures, raise the ambition level and increase their effect. By tightening and further specifying the prescriptions of conditionality (SMR, GAEC), offering financial incentives through the eco-schemes, it’s understood we can steer agriculture as a whole to adopt more sustainable farming and soil management practises through mechanisms connected with hectare support. This is also the view of the EU Parliament’s agricultural committee which recently approved the position that the eco-schemes should be operationalized with a minimum budget allocation of 20% of the direct payments. This kind of a policy, raising the standards of sustainable agriculture overall, is more likely to lead to a more favourable development also from the perspective of the Baltic Sea.
This view is, however, not shared by Finland and Sweden, the two countries having the most at stake regarding the environmental state of Baltic Sea. These countries have traditionally favoured the voluntary path in terms of additional environmental measures in the CAP and this position appears to prevail. Raising the environmental ambition of conditionality and offering incentives or result-based compensation through the eco-schemes is not enjoying support from these two countries, a scenario which means that most of the support would be handed out to all farms complying with the basic elementary standards. This scenario eats into the spirit and the motivation of the farmers having already adopted more sustainable practises and in the worst case could worsen the environmental performance of European and Baltic Sea region agriculture overall.
Our global challenges and their local phenomena, like decline in biodiversity, extreme weather and eutrophication of water bodies, are reaching such scales and magnitudes, that we must see things in a longer time horizon and make fundamental changes in our economic systems and the policies steering our society. The EU Common Agriculture Policy must take a step onto the path where we gradually phase out subsidies which contribute to soil degradation and biodiversity decline and steer public budgets increasingly into sustainable land and soil management practises. It is critical to support and incentivize the adoption of such practises widely across the whole sector, calling for their horizontal adoption across the CAP.
We need more holistic, integrated and systematic approach in the design of the policies which aims for a living soil which sequesters carbon, withholds water and nutrients and gives better yields. This gives a basis for both plant and animal production and resource efficient circular agriculture. Agriculture which also allows the Baltic Sea to recover and restore its diverse underwater life.
The Baltic Sea Action Group strenghtened its roster in agricultural expertise as Eliisa Malin begun her work in the foundation at the beginning of September. Malin was already familiar with BSAG through Carbon Action, since Malin’s farm is one of Carbon Action’s one hundred pilot farms.
– My husband heard about Carbon Action through work. We got interested immediately. It was amazing to become part of a group of farmers who are not afraid of new ideas, and are supportive of each other in our shared, goal-oriented soil carbon sequestration endeavours. I’m really happy that we were accepted as one of the one hundred pilot farms.
Carbon Action’s pilot farms are divided into small groups that test different carbon farming methods. Malins’ farm is in the All in group that tests every possible carbon farming method. So far the work for carbon sequestration has gone rather smoothly but minimizing tillage has posed some challenges.
– Minimizing tillage has been the most difficult task for us. We need to consider carefully how to proceed with this method in our organic farm. It will require updating our equipment somewhat, as well as reorganizing our work. We have grown cover crops for years and they have worked really well. We would like to develop that method further.
BSAG’s approach to advancing sustainable agriculture has always been pragmatic. Through Malin, the foundation has gained even more practical agricultural know-how. Malin describes her path to BSAG as “a year-long job interview”, as she got to know Eija Hagelberg and Sanna Söderlund from BSAG through Carbon Action.
– I realized how important it would be to get to work with carbon sequestration as I attended the Carbon Action events. I am a trained agronomist, more specifically a plant pathologist, and I longed for work in my own field in addition to working on our farm. I said this aloud on one of our field days and what do you know, I started my work in BSAG at the beginning of September!
Malin’s work in BSAG consists of many different tasks, such as Carbon Action related communications, event planning, trainings, creating materials and business cooperation. Malin’s main job however is to deliver scientific research to farmers and agricultural advisors. She works in the SOILADVICE project, composing guidebooks and texts to bring the important basic research and the latest research data to the use of farmers.
– My job is extremely multidimensional, which seems to be the case for everyone working in BSAG. The work is exciting and fast-paced. Every Monday brings a new adventure in the wonderland of sustainable agriculture!
The Finnish dairy company Valio aims to achieve a carbon neutral dairy chain by the year 2035. To reach the ambitious goal, extensive collaboration with dairy producers is needed. In the fall of 2019 Valio and Baltic Sea Action Group organized two trainings for Valio’s producers with the heading ”Dairy farms to carbon farms”. The trainings were held in Aulanko on the 29th and 30th of October, and in Tahko on the 6th and 7th of November. Nearly 200 dairy producers participated in the trainings.
Valio’s director of the carbon neutral dairy chain Juha Nousiainen noted how cattle has been prominently featured in discussions about climate change, and usually in a negative light. The dairy chain wants to prove that they are aware of their production’s effect on climate, and that Valio wants to make a positive impact. Valio’s carbon neutral dairy chain takes into consideration e.g. emission-reducing technologies, energy production, logistics, packaging and losses in addition to developing the dairy farms. The perennial grasses used in dairy farming are also a good way to cover organic peatlands and prevent them from releasing carbon.
The trainings approached the subject from a futuristic point of view. BSAG’s head of training Sanna Söderlund prompted the audience to ponder the change and possibilities ahead. Dairy farms have a great potential in carbon sequestration and the future is yet to be written. We have a unique opportunity to develop production towards one that benefits the environment and sequesters carbon. This calls for openness and courage to take on new challenges and develop the existing solutions further.
The trainings began with presentations on the basics of carbon farming by Carbon Action’s experts Eliisa Malin (Aulanko) and Juuso Joona (Tahko), as well as speeches from the dairy producers themselves who spoke about their motivation to become carbon farmers. The producers got to share their thoughts further in small groups, and the discussion was lively. The future of agricultural aid, possible marketplaces for sequestered carbon, alternatives to tilling and how to reduce the use of plant protection products were among the subjects discussed in the groups. Researchers from the Carbon Action platform also gave presentations on the measuring and verification of carbon sequestration.
As the participants were all dairy farmers, it wasn’t surprising that discussion on grass took the centre stage in the trainings. Numerous specialists shared their expertise in so called grass modules. Grass is the most important feed in a dairy farm and the productivity of the farm often depends on it. In addition to pastures, perennial and multi-species grasses are the cornerstone of carbon farming.
The next day began with a panel discussion on the philosophy behind carbon farming, led by Sanna Söderlund. Agriculture plays a huge part in climate change, and plants are the most crucial part of the solution. Attitudes towards agriculture have started to change in the last couple of years, as fields are seen as a solution instead of a problem. This has made a more open discussion possible, and the younger generations have a lot of potential and understanding. Doing climate smart work in the fields also increases the productivity of both dairy production and all farming. However, reaching the goal will take time and effort.
Agronomist Jussi Knaapi addressed the importance of verifying the amount of carbon stored in the soil. At the moment there isn’t much data from the deeper layers of soil and more resources should be directed towards this work. Currently soil samples from deeper layers, as well as verification methods are researched in the Carbon Action platform and the stn MULTA project. Knaapi states that measurements and scannings from the fields are, together with other research, an important tool if we want to trade with carbon in the future. He also highlighted the need for holistic management in the farms.
Experts and researchers also gave presentations on protein rich fodder crops, as well as mitigating the carbon emissions from peatlands. The next training will be in the form of a webinar focusing on creating a carbon farming plan for each individual farm.
Circular Economy in Agriculture -seminar
Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, Finland 30/9/2019
Set objectives high and coordinate joint actions to reach them
The above summarizes the conclusions of the panel discussion on the sustainable use of livestock manure during the Finnish EU Presidency Circular Economy warm-up event in Helsinki, Finland.
SuMaNu Interreg platform project and Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG) arranged a seminar titled “Circular Economy in Agriculture – How to Advance Nutrient Circulation, Soil Quality and a Healthy Environment.” at Finlandia Hall on the 30 September 2019. The event was part of the Finnish EU Presidency event European Days for Sustainable Circular Economy (#edsce19). Approximately 40 people, from small producers to politicians, took part and enjoyed a fruitful panel discussion, in which sharing their views were MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, Professor Jean-Franҫois Soussana from the French National Agricultural Research Institute INRA, Director Juha Nousiainen from the Finnish dairy company Valio, Senior Ministerial Adviser Saara Bäck from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment and Senior scientist Sari Luostarinen from Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). The panel discussion was moderated by Researcher Erik Sindhöj from RISE, Sweden.
The introductory presentations came from research and administration. The opening address was given by Minna Sarvi, Research Scientist at Luke and the coordinator of the SuMaNu platform project. She referred to HELCOM statistics and noted that in land-based phosphorus load to the Baltic Sea, distinct regional peaks stand out. As a result of emission reductions from waste water treatment plants and industry, the diffuse load from agriculture, and in particular the contribution of certain regions with accumulated phosphorus, is accentuated. In these areas, accumulation of phosphorus in animal manure exceeds the needs of the region’s crop production. Regional concentration reflects the nature of the challenge, being connected to the structure of the agricultural sector and its value chains.
The case presented about Finland exemplifies this. According to Luke, 26 000 tonnes of potentially recyclable phosphorus is produced each year, of which 19 300 tonnes in livestock manure (figures by Luke from 2017). At the same time, 11 000 tonnes of mineral phosphorus are used in Finnish agriculture annually. To make manure phosphorus a more viable alternative to replace mineral phosphorus as a fertilizer, the excess manure should be processed so that it can be more easily transported to areas where it is needed.
The aim of the SuMaNu platform project is to pool information and produce recommendations on how to improve the efficiency of manure utilization both at farm and regional levels, so that manure nutrients can be used more efficiently and safely in crop production.
The intergovernmental environmental policy body of the Baltic Sea countries, HELCOM, has accelerated efforts to solve the challenges of nutrient run-off and nutrient recycling through a joint regional nutrient recycling strategy. In her introductory remarks, Saara Bäck, Senior Ministerial Adviser and the current Chairman of HELCOM, remided that 98% of the Baltic Sea still suffers from eutrophication. In Finland, the work to promote nutrient recycling started already in 2010, when Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen set the goal of making Finland a model country for nutrient recycling by 2020. To achieve this goal, several funding programs have been implemented, such as the Finnish government key project on nutrient recycling launched in 2016.
For the basis of the HELCOM regional nutrient recycling strategy, work to establish guidelines for standards to determine the nutrient content of manure is ongoing. The standards are currently being developed by Manure Standards, a joint project of the Baltic Sea countries, which is also involved in SuMaNu. Another example of national initiatives is the national phosphorus strategy in Germany.
The objectives of HELCOM’s regional nutrient recycling strategy were jointly agreed between the countries last summer. They set focus on sustainability and safety, reducing the environmental load and creating new business opportunities. The objectives of the strategy will be implemented through the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan and nationally through relevant policies. Once completed, this would present the Baltic Sea region as a model area for nutrient recycling.
In her presentation, Senior Researcher Sari Luostarinen of Luke, a specialist in manure management and processing, summed up the key policy issues for the panel to tackle. As the regional segregation of crop and livestock production results in phosphorus surpluses in some areas and in deficit in others, it is necessary to look for solutions beyond the farm scale to achieve a more even use of manure nutrients, meaning also less nutrient runoff to the waters. Since transportation of raw manure is expensive and inefficient, part of the manure produced should be processed into more advanced recycled fertilizer products. This would mean, in particular, the separation of nitrogen and phosphorus into different fractions and the concentration of the nutrients into smaller volumes using different technologies. The organic matter in the manure is important for maintaining soil fertility and often the manure phosphorus ends up in the same processed product with the organic matter.
In terms of policy steering, the promotion of manure processing requires the development and quality assurance of the manure-based fertilizer products, as well as financial support and incentives to promote the emergence of larger processing plants as ‘regional nutrient recycling centres’. It is essential to target policies specifically to address regional imbalances in nutrients and to encourage the farmers to use recycled nutrients instead of mineral fertilizers.
The main part of the event, the panel discussion, provided an excellent, constructive and positive discussion on managing agri-environmental issues from multiple angles. Jean-Franҫois Soussana, a merited climate scientist and contributor to the 4-per-mille initiative by France at the 2015 Climate Summit, stressed that soil carbon plays a key role in the behaviour of nitrogen and phosphorus. The optimum carbon-nitrogen-phosphorus ratio ensures that the phosphorus remains in the soil and is not subject to leaching. Soil carbon and soil carbon storage play an important role in mitigating climate change and therefore the issue of nutrient recycling, manure use and water protection should be considered in conjunction with soil carbon and climate issues. From the climate perspective, also the entire food system should be addressed, which, depending on how it is calculated, accounts for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, as Professor Soussana pointed out. In this case, one should critically consider e.g. the use of fossil energy, diet and eating habits; land use, and, above all, the promotion of nature-based, multi-benefit solutions such as restoring soil microbiology and farming methods which circulate organic material. This is not only about combating climate change, but also preparing for and increasing resistance to climate change and extreme weather events.
In recent years, we have seen many examples of how companies have taken initiatives to transform their operations more climate friendly, realizing that it may be also commercially smart to be among the early adaptors. A good example of this kind of thinking and goal setting is Valio Ltd, represented in the panel by Juha Nousiainen, Director of the Carbon Neutral Milk Chain. When he was recently commented that pursuing carbon-neutral milk production by 2035 is “absolutely crazy”, Nousiainen replied:”Is it really crazy enough?”. He firmly believes that targets need to be set beyond what is currently seen technically feasible. According to Nousiainen, Valio’s target will be achieved through the means currently being explored and disseminated more widely: soil management, storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide via grasslands, on-farm and regional manure processing solutions, reduction of mineral fertilization, and the abandonment of fossil fuels.
The panel also considered the health risks associated with the use of recycled fertilizers in food production, such as cadmium and other harmful metals, as well as antibiotics and antibiotic resistant microbes. The new EU fertilizer product regulation also covers product safety issues, but there are many unknowns, so research and monitoring to minimize these risks need to be continued.
Once the targets are set and the private and public goals aligned, well-targeted smart regulation is needed to steer multiple actors simultaneously towards the target. In the debate, MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen called for a shift away from sectoral thinking and emphasized systemic change, which can also be achieved through targeted incentives. In particular, agriculture should be linked to a broader food system. Why not start to draw a road map for a sustainable food system in Europe?
This discussion, too, showed that we can, in any case, increase communication and debate between different sectors. As Saara Bäck emphasized, open information sharing and confidence-building discussion open up opportunities for mutually beneficial solutions.
Background: The structure of agriculture feeds phosphorus hot spots
The regional segregation of animal and crop production is a problem both in Finland and in Europe in general. In Central and Western Europe, the issue was first raised because of groundwater pollution caused by nitrate emissions, but the Baltic Sea region and Finland are equally concerned with phosphorus. This approach is increasingly being adopted around Europe.
In general, livestock manure contains too much phosphorus relative to nitrogen and crop needs. Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource whose production raises worrying ecological, socio-economic and geopolitical issues. Together with nitrogen, it accelerates eutrophication when entering waterways. But in the soil, phosphorus is a vital nutrient for crops. The correct chemical balance between nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon promotes nutrient entry into crop growth and prevents leaching to waterways.
This equilibrium has been disturbed in many places: in Finland, the problem is the regional segregation of livestock production and the history of high phosphorus fertilization increasing the soil phosphorus stock occurring on the same regions. Manure phosphorus is available on areas with little need for phosphorus fertilization. In France, the problem is exacerbated by the import of soya, which leads to the concentration of livestock production in coastal areas close to ports. This makes sustainable uses of nutrients more challenging. For well-functioning, living soils, and to combat climate change, we should find ways to simultaneously recycle nutrients and add carbon to the soil and keep it there. Optimal use of manure is also part of this solution.