Family farming: the key to food production in Norway

With steep hills down to the fiords, high mountains, small pieces of land, cold winters and short  summers, Norway may seem an unlikely place to have active farming across the country. The key to achieving this is a tradition of family farming that has continued for centuries.

So far, society and politicians have supported family farming as a tool to achieve the highest possible national self- sufficiency based on national resources. And farmers have achieved access to the market by creating and developing strong farmer-owned cooperatives.

Norwegian wood

Forestry is also an important part of family farming, as a substantial proportion of the cultivated forest in Norway is family owned and often combined with other agricultural production. Only a low percentage of farming families are able to earn enough income from traditional production on the farm. In most parts of the country, farming has traditionally been combined with other activities such as fisheries and logging.

Today, one or several members of the family usually have another occupation besides taking part in running the farm. However, the family lives on the farm and contributes significantly to the activity and economy in rural communities.

Arable land - a scarce resource

Norway covers a distance of 2,500 kilometres from the southern part to North Cape at 71 degrees north. The climate and conditions for agriculture differ significantly from south to north and from the fiords to the mountain areas inland. Population density is low, with a total population of 5 million inhabitants. An increasing proportion of the population lives in cities and urban areas.

Only 3 percent of Norway’s total area is arable land, and 30 percent of this can be used for grain production and vegetables. The rest of the area can only be used for grass production. In addition, sheep and cattle graze in the mountains during a short, but intensive summer.

Three percent of Norway’s total area is arable land

With a very few exemptions, Norwegian farmers produce for the domestic market. Still, the country’s degree of selfsufficiency is less than 50 per cent on an energy basis. Norway thus has a substantial net import of food, and national food security is an important issue.

Objective: maintain domestic production

Norway has a national objective to maintain domestic production and, within existing multilateral trade commitments, cover the national demand for those products that naturally grow in the country. The agricultural sector also has many social objectives. To meet society’s needs, agriculture must produce safe and healthy food of high quality in the light of consumer preferences, and produce public goods such as viable districts, a broad range of environmental and cultural benefits, and secure long-term food production.

Covers domestic demand

Norwegian agriculture mainly covers the domestic demand for milk and milk products, pig meat, poultry and eggs. Norwegian farmers produce 80-90 per cent of the national demand for beef and sheep meat. The national market share for grain and potatoes is approximately 60 per cent. Only 25 per cent of the demand for vegetables, fruits and berries is produced in Norway.