“We take the best things from organic and conventional farming and combine them,” says Swedish farmer Håkan Eriksson who, together with his wife Teri Lee Eriksson, owns and runs Wiggeby Farm in Faringö, 30 km from the capital city of Stockholm.
The Erikssons grow grass, cereals, peas and oil seeds on 600 hectares of land. Precision farming and balanced-fertilization are concepts that are fully taken into account at Wiggeby farm. They combine modern and traditional techniques that optimize yield and increase earnings. At the same time, by using resources more efficiently, they minimize environmental impact, showing that conventional farming can be profitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly.
High-technology and traditional techniques hand in hand
Over the years, the Erikssons have invested in pro-environmental measures to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses. A Yara N-Sensor is used to calculate the nitrogen content of the crops and adjust the application dose of fertilizer.
“I was one of the first farmers that bought the N-Sensor in Sweden,” says Håkan. The N-Sensor is not only environmentally friendly but also profitable. “I cut the rate of nitrogen use by around four percent, and I raise my yields about the same four percent. The environment and your wallet both benefit. It is a win-win situation,” stresses Håkan.
There is also a facility for composting horse manure at the farm. Making use of the full value chain, Håkan sells haylage for feeding horses to farms nearby and also collects horse manure for compost. “We have a problem in the Stockholm area - very many stables can't manage their horse manure properly. We have built up a system with containers, and I offer them a solution,” says Håkan.
“We compost the manure along with greenhouse material. We spread it on our fields, and cover 50% of our phosphorous needs,” he explains. The Erikssons use the compost along with mineral fertilizers to supply the nutrients the plants require. This has proven to provide both the best yields and the most environmentally friendly solution.
They have also made a pond for phosphorus sedimentation and maintain permanent grass buffer zones along major drainage ditches in order to reduce the risks of nutrient leakage to local waterways. “By combining all these schemes we develop long-term sustainable agriculture,” Håkan adds.
“We take the best things from organic and conventional farming and combine them”
Swedish farmer Håkan Eriksson
Holistic approach supported by research and practical use
Their holistic approach is backed up by thorough documentation. The Erikssons and their employees record everything they do at the farm, from soil cultivation to harvest. This database serves as an effective tool for analysis and monitoring of nutrient losses. “We have collected data since 1995, and we currently have one the largest databases in Europe,” Håkan says.
He is the Chairman of the Swedish farmers’ organization Farming in Balance. There, farmers share experiences and collect data as they develop and implement new farming methods. The work is done in close cooperation with agricultural universities, linking research and practical use. “We kick new ideas into universities and help take ideas from universities out to the farmers. Then, we try to find out what we can do to get more environmentally friendly farming,“ says Håkan.
Cooperation is the key
The Erikssons won the prestigious WWF Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2010 in recognition of their success in reducing the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous leaching from their farm into the Baltic Sea - combating eutrophication.
They beat out six national winners from Finland, Poland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all of them were organic farms, except Wiggeby. “We have taken some extra steps along the road towards more environmentally friendly farming. Being environmentally friendly usually doesn’t cost anything. It is value added,” says Håkan.
Håkan doesn’t like the debate between organic and conventional farming. He believes that to feed the 9.1 billion people expected in the world in 2050 the farming industry must move forward, and that the sustainable farming system has to embrace the best techniques used on both sides. Cooperation is the key. “I think we have to combine the best of both and to listen to, talk with, and learn from each other.”