• Manufacturing, Retail

“Food production is about people” – the future of domestic food relies on primary producers

Food prices are rising, but this increase isn’t reflected in the incomes of primary producers. Päivi Nerg, Director of Rural Vitality at MTK, the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, hopes for solidarity between different food value chain stakeholders so that Finnish food production will continue to be profitable in the future.

“At the moment, the producer at the beginning of the food chain fares the worst,” says Päivi Nerg, Director of Rural Vitality at MTK.

When the war in Ukraine drove up food prices and accelerated inflation, primary producers, who were already in a difficult financial position, found themselves in an even tighter spot.

“When costs rise, the producer is the only one in the food value chain who cannot raise the price of their product. There are many production sectors in Finnish agriculture where producers have difficulties even covering their expenses,” says Nerg.

Consumer appreciation encourages producers, but the most important thing is to buy domestic food

Something positive has also come out of the crises. According to Nerg, appreciation for domestic food production has increased. It can be seen in consumers’ attitudes and purchasing decisions. The most important way to support Finnish food producers still is to buy domestic food.

“Consumers’ positive attitude has been conveyed to producers, and it has motivated them to take greater pride in their own work within the industry,” says Nerg.

Actions have been taken to ease the situation for producers. Nerg cites the support packages granted by the government as one example. In addition to profitability issues, more attention than before has started to be paid to the survival and well-being of primary producers. It is important for the industry that generational changes are successful, and that young people become interested in food production as a career option.

Behind the food, there are people

Nerg divides domestic food producers into three groups. There are young producers who invest a lot, producers who are in the middle of their career and perhaps already cooling down, and producers who are clearly ending their operations or preparing for a generational change. Nerg reminds us of the importance of faith in the future, especially in the everyday life of young primary producers.

“In the end, all producers are people who need to make a living from their work. They must be able to do their job and be able to pay for large investments and loans. We have to find solutions to support people’s belief that food production is the industry of the future.”

The discussion on agricultural support policy is active, but Nerg sees that there are other options to improve the situation for producers as well.

“One solution is a market-oriented food chain, in which inputs are also balanced for primary producers.”

In addition to the pandemic and the war, the climate crisis is also strongly visible in the day-to-day life of producers. Natural conditions are changing, and consumers’ environmental awareness is growing. Producers want to respond to these changes.

“Sustainable development, circular economy, and climate change have come to the fore a lot. Our young producers want to be at the frontline of this development. Still, many producers may feel that they are too small to take on such big challenges,” says Nerg.

The strength of domestic food production is clean nature

Finnish food is known as clean, safe and healthy. Nerg cites as a strength that the Finnish consumer does not have to fear antibiotics or other residues in food. The level of hygiene is also very good compared to that of other countries.

“For example, there is no salmonella in domestic food. It is not a matter of course in the international context. It is worth taking good care of this in the future as well.”

According to Nerg, there would be no food production without nature.

“The most important resources for food production are clean nature and soil, and climate. Taking care of them requires us to act constantly. Climate change is progressing, and we have to do our part in mitigating it.”

Packaging brings out people and values

Packaging plays an important role in terms of food preservation but also in providing information to consumers and building the product’s brand. In Nerg's opinion, the appearance of a product is a way to highlight the people and values behind food production.

“The appearance can more broadly reflect the world of values in which the product was produced. What kind of farm does the food come from, and what kind of work has been done there? The information improves the consumer's understanding of where our food comes from, and creates a strong brand for the Finnish countryside,” says Nerg.

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss the challenges we are facing now and in the future regarding food availability, safety and distribution chains. The articles are published following of our virtual roundtable.

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