On the northwest coast of Zealand, Denmark’s largest island, lies a 15 km long peninsula known as Sjælllands Odde. In the center of this peninsula you’ll find Jesper Andersen and Kalatrong Aparatana’s organic farm.
Dubbed Birkemosegaard, the 500ac farm is home to a herd of 60 dairy cows, an apple orchard and a variety of vegetables and grains.
About 200ac is owned while the rest is rented. Cereals are grown on 200 hectares, crops with high economic value occupy 40 hectares and the rest is permanent pasture for grazing and forage for winter.
There are different soil types throughout the country, with sandy soils being the most common. 15ac along the coast has very low grass growth and is mainly used for heavy cattle grazing.
The farm has 30kw solar panels along with a 50kw wind turbine installed in the 1980s.
Proportional, the organic market in Denmark is the largest in the world, accounting for about 13 percent of the total retail food market, with more than 80 percent of Danish consumers purchasing organic food.
The market is growing, with dairy products, eggs, oatmeal, flour, carrots and bananas being the most popular items on the country’s organic consumer shopping list.
One third of a liter of milk purchased by Danish consumers is organic and 30pc of eggs produced are organic.
Birkemosegaard supplies organic vegetables to Noma and Geranium, the two best restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2021 list. Both are in the Danish capital Copenhagen, just over an hour’s drive from the farm. .
Birkemosegaard translates directly into English as ‘birch swamp farm’; 10 farms in Denmark have this name.
Jesper and Kala in the farm with their 5 children Catharina, Angeli, Anton, Annika and Benjamin. They also enlist the help of farmers throughout the year.
Originally from Thailand, Kalatrong came to Denmark to work on a farm in 1991, after working in Norway as a research student. As soon as Jesper took over the farm from his parents in 1992, Kalatrong arrived at Birkemosegaard as an exchange student.
The farm has been owned by the Andersen family for four generations since 1906 and has been operated biologically and organically since 1968.
In 68, the dairy herd consisted of 35 cows, just over 30. Jesper’s parents Tove and Svend had previously used artificial fertilizers because the farm had a high stocking rate.
In the mid-60s, Jesper’s parents sprayed with anti-lice spray in a beet field. Pregnant cows crossed the fence and ate beets that had been sprayed, and then suffered miscarriages.
This experience and concern for groundwater and the environment in general led them to decide to stop using artificial pesticides and fertilizers.
“In life, you always have to go hand in hand with work. My parents had been farming traditionally for years before deciding the farm had to be run on biological principles,” says Jesper.
“You have to have a job where you’re happy and I’m lucky enough to love what I do and how we do it.”
In 2000, Birkemosegaard switched from expressing milk to a breastfed infant. Many organic dairy farms converted that year because of an oversupply of organic milk in Denmark and Jesper could not guarantee that his milk would be collected; he was then kept.
The suckling pig herd includes crosses between several breeds, such as the Danish Red, Limousin, Red Angus, Hereford and Galloway. Heifers were mated to a Galloway bull and heifers were mated to a Salers bull, both for ease of calving.
“Agility is also very important to me. I wanted to have calm animals on the farm that I could walk through without causing much disturbance,” says Jesper.
“Avoiding danger to both animals and humans is a top priority. In the past a lot of cows had horns but now I only raise those that have been polled.”
In the past, Jesper performed slaughter on the farm, but now all animals are slaughtered in an abattoir 20 minutes away.
“All of our cuts are made by an organic butcher, and Kalatrong checks each piece, sorting out which meat should be minced,” he said. “That’s why we can always guarantee high quality.
“In the farm store, we sell our own and others’ organic and dynamic goods. We partner with other organic and bio-based farmers in the region and fruit importers from all over Europe so that we can meet the needs of our customers.
“We always sell a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of our goods can be purchased from our online store and delivered within Zealand, but some products are only available in the farm shop. ”
Products include beef, pork, lamb, chicken, duck, goose, milk, butter, eggs, flour, cereals, juice, honey, jam, wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar , nuts and apple juice from the orchards of Andersens.
The farm also sells sourdough and rye bread from Louise Bannon’s Tír Bakery in Copenhagen. Originally from the Greystones, Louise obtained her powder from Birkemosegaard.
“By selling directly to the public through our store, we don’t feel the same price volatility as other farmers,” says Jesper.
“However, like everyone, we have to meet the economic balance and will adjust our crops to match the needs of the market.
“The price difference between conventional and organic produce is varied. Meat is where the big difference is.
“In Denmark, the public has a wide awareness of organic food. Some people only eat organic food, while others don’t eat at all. Of course the majority falls somewhere in between.
“We are fortunate to have some very dedicated clients, which make this business worthwhile. I’ve had friends all my life doing this, and some of my closest friends are my clients.
“We supply two of the top restaurants in the world, and we are proud of the identity we have established for our business over the years.”
Going forward, Jesper is considering downsizing its suckling herd and selling all of its own beef directly from the farm store.
“We don’t want to be bigger than we are now. Maintaining quality and corporate identity will continue to be our primary focus, he said.
‘We have lost 3m of land to the sea in recent years’
With the Birkemosegaard farm running along the northwest coast of Denmark, climate change is at the forefront of Jesper Andersen’s mind.
“We face the burden of very bad storms and unfortunately in my lifetime I have witnessed three of the worst hurricanes in the last 500 years,” explains Jesper.
“In recent years, we have also lost about three meters of coastal land to the sea.
“In 2018, we experienced the worst drought here in 100 years. Crops were very poor and we had to silage from barley.
“Then I was afraid when it rained, a lot of the nutrients would be washed out through the soil because the plants wouldn’t be able to cope. Fortunately, the rain gently returned.
“I always try to make sure the fields are green and there are some plants growing.
“Only 10pc of land is processed on the farm at any given time. Without soil crops, nitrogen would increasingly disappear from the surface at a rate of 10cm per month at average rainfall.
“On average, every year, I use 10,000 m3 of water to irrigate crops of high economic value. During the years of drought, we experienced tremendous damage. “
“Every year presents a new challenge. Last season we lost 50 pc of our spring wheat crop to gouty flies. It lays its eggs on the stem and the larvae feed on the insides before escaping, killing the plant. This fly has only become a problem in the last four years.
“Wildlife like crows, pigeons and geese are all a challenge for our crops.
“Conventional farming has damaged the quality of drinking water in Denmark. The problem we cause to the environment today may not be felt for many years, but we will have to face the consequences eventually.
“There are so many possibilities to improve the world and we need to be ready to adopt new technologies at every opportunity.
“Agriculture here is being strangled by climate change, and ordinary farmers in particular are feeling the pressure. I am lucky to have a low drop and am running an organic system.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/forestry-enviro/environment/how-this-danish-farm-became-a-global-leader-in-organic-production-41434654.html How this Danish farm became a global leader in organic production