Farming in Finland
Meet Juha-Pekka Aikola: A farmer who is trying to battle climate change through tasty plants
Being a farmer is no easy job. Long hours, intensive labour, and as a player at the bottom of the food chain, all of your customers seem to be squeezing every penny they can out of you. That’s why Juha-Pekka’s dad didn’t want him to become a farmer. So instead, he got a relatively comfortable job working B2B sales for S-Group in the Agribusiness sector. However, the situation changed when new Finnish legislation on farming came into effect. This left him with 1.5 years to inherit the farm or losing out on critical subsidies provided to farms by the government. As a result, he ended up making the tough decision to leave his cushy job and return to the family business.
“I learned to drive a tractor when I was 5. I had decided I had wanted to be a farmer since I was 15. Farming was and always has been in my blood.”
His time in the corporate world certainly would not go to waste, however. Having a degree in economics as well as extensive experience with B2B sales and product development, he had developed a much more business-oriented mindset. Without question, he was ready to innovate and take the family farming business to the next level.
However, it wasn’t enough that he simply would “make a profit.” He wanted to make a meaningful and positive impact. Maybe even help out his fellow farmers in the process. What kind of crops could he grow to help him accomplish this?
One of his main products: Broad Bean Flour
Of course, while he could have worked his innovative magic on just about any crop, he settled on the dried broad bean. Plant-based proteins are all the rage in Finland nowadays, and with a Carbon Footprint 1/10th that of red meat, he felt like it was a good start to making a small dent in our C02 emissions. With the help of other farmers, he began growing this broad beans and turning them into a finely-milled flour for everyone to use in their cooking. From there he went on to make broad bean pasta and hippo flakes, with more products in the works.
“I have even more products I wish to bring to the market, I just need more capital”
Yet another innovative product: Broad Bean Pasta
However, the same innovations that have some so easily to Juha-Pekka don’t come as easily for other farmers. Not many have his extensive background in business development. As a result, there are many more hurdles that they have to overcome to get into that same innovative mindset. In addition to that, the global underpricing of raw food materials associated with oligopolistic business practices leave most small farmers struggling to compete, let along innovate. After all, if there is no incentive to develop or grow high quality food products, why bother?
And if that wasn’t enough disincentive, small farmers looking to develop more innovative food products must do battle with the big food corporations. So even if that farmer does succeed, a big company often comes along and makes a cheaper, lower-quality version of their product with a stronger marketing strategy. This ultimately snuffs that farmer’s company out and leaves consumers with a half-baked version of the original.
“If the chose to buy out the small farmer’s product rather than making their own cheap copy, it would actually be a win-win for everyone”
CoVid-19 certainly has not helped the situation. As fears of critical food shortages began to rise, people and businesses stopped thinking about sustainability and climate change and began to return to their old bad habits. Mince meat and regular pasta became everyone’s go to staples, while plant-based protein products gathered dust on the shelf. While those hoarding habits have generally subsided, many farmers are still dealing with the fallout of CoVid-19. With a huge shortage of seasonal workers coming from abroad, many vegetable farmers are afraid they will not be able to meet the normal demand and experience substantial post-harvest losses. As a result, Juha-Pekka is worried that businesses will stop encouraging healthy-eating habits and trying to prevent climate change. He is not without hope though. He is still doing everything he can as a farmer to help reduce the effects of climate change. As a member of the BSAG (Baltic Sea Action Group) he is working with fellow farmers to discover better ways to utilize farming and plants to put even more CO2 back in the soil. He tries to make every healthy product he makes tastier, and not just focusing on plant-based proteins, but also making plants tastier, more nutritious and more appealing to eat in general.
Farmer’s markets are starting to become a trend in Finland, which will lead to more decentralized distribution systems and allow farmers to capture more of the value chain. Future farms in Finland will likely grow bigger with economies of scale, and more farmers will start specializing in growing more exotic products. Finland is actually world-class when it comes to its research in animal and plant genetics. If the nation could learn how to better commercialize that knowledge and scale it for global export, it would result in significant growth for the Finland’s agricultural sector.
Whatever may happen, you can bet Juha-Pekka will be working hard to bring his customers tasty plants and plant-based products. He loves good food after all, and one of the most rewarding things about working in this industry is that he gets to work with tasty food and people who are enthusiastic about it.
To learn more about what Juha-Pekka is doing, feel free to check out his website at https://vihreaharka.fi