Rain washes away Norway’s grain

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Norwegian grain growers are in despair after months of relentless rain have drowned their crops and washed away their profits. Weather forecasters predict at least a week of so-called “Indian Summer” is on the way, but it’s coming much too late to stem the farmers’ losses.

There haven't been many waving fields of grain in Norway this year, because of all the rain. PHOTO: Views and News

Reports have been popping up for several weeks in Norwegian media about concerns over poor harvests this year. The farmers’ cooperative Norske Felleskjøp told newspaper Aftenposten last week that grain production hasn’t been so low since 1975. Most of the harvest should have been concluded by the symbolic day known as høstjevndøgn (the autumn equinox) on September 23 but because of the rain, nearly 40 percent of the crops were still lying out in saturated and flooded fields.

On Monday, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that new estimates peg grain losses alone at NOK 600 million. Either the farmers can’t get their equipment into the saturated fields to harvest, or the grain is of such poor quality that it can’t be used for food, only for animal feed at best. And that means much lower prices for the farmers.

“I don’t have any grain this year that can be used for food,” Harald Bøhnsdalen, a grain grower in Leirsund in Akershus County, told NRK. “Everything has been classified as feed. There’s some usable supply, but the quality is poor.”

Resorting to imports
Sindre Flø of the farmers’ cooperative said that in a good year, Norwegian farmers produce around 70 percent of the grain needed for food in Norway every year. “We (Norwegian consumers) use around 300,000 tons a year,” Flø told NRK. “This year we’ll have to import almost all of it.”

Bøhnsdalen confirmed that the poor harvest is taking a heavy toll on the farmers. “You lie awake at night and you can hear that it’s raining again, and you know that you have crops valued at several hundred thousand kroner, maybe a million, out there, but you can’t get out to harvest it,” he said.

The heavy losses caused by the increasingly wet weather in Norway is also scaring off new generations of farmers. Aftenposten reported that there were around 240 grain growers in Akershus County, just outside Oslo, in the mid-1990s. Today there are around 70, despite Norway’s heavy subsidies and protectionist policies aimed at maintaining farms and economic activity in rural areas. The policies don’t provide full crop loss coverage, only damage up to NOK 500,000 (USD 90,000) and with a 30 percent deductible.

Grain growers not alone
Norway’s strawberry growers were hit by the heavy rains earlier this summer and potato growers are suffering as well. “Rain and wind have washed and blown away the dirt that covers the potatoes,” Jens Kristian Ulsrud at the Kims Norge potato chip producer at Skreia in the Toten district of Oppland County told Aftenposten last week. Toten is known as one of the largest potato-growing areas in the country.

Ulsrud noted that potatoes exposed to light result in poor quality, while many potato fields have also been flooded and the potatoes are rotten. His company is going to have to import potatoes to produce their potato chips.

“Our suppliers, understandably enough, can’t deliver the amounts they’re contracted for,” Ulsrud said. “They can’t even get into their fields to harvest them.”

Better weather on the way
The next two weeks will be decisive for many potato growers in dire need of sunshine and drier conditions. State meteorologists had some good news at last. While more rain was expected on Monday, the sun was due to reappear over most of southern Norway from Tuesday, and stick around for several days.

A long-awaited high-pressure system was moving in over southern Norway, and temperatures were predicted to rise as high as 22C (70F) by Friday. The unseasonably warm weather was even expected to last through the weekend.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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