A glimpse at farming and legal issues in Scandinavia

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Tuesday, July 12th, 2022
A farm valley and cattle in central Norway.

I had the good fortune recently to attend the International Farm Management Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark, along with the pre-conference tour of farms through Norway and Sweden. It was not only a beautiful trip, but an opportunity to view farming practices and legal issues in other parts of the world.  Some practices and issues were surprisingly familiar while others were quite different.  As I visited farms and interacted with farm operators and agricultural business owners, I developed a list of observations about the similarities and differences.  Here are a few of those observations.

  • Farmland should stay in the family.  Very old “allodial” and “concession” laws in Norway and Sweden prevent agricultural property from being sold outside the family or divided into smaller parcels and grant the eldest heir the right to inherit the property. It works.  We visited several farms that had been in the same family for 12 to 14 generations.
  • Environmental compliance and sustainability goals present both challenges and opportunities.  Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have aggressive goals to reduce carbon emissions.  While some businesses noted the challenges of complying with air and water regulations, they were committed to change because consumers want “more sustainable” products and experiences.
  • Agritourism includes sleepovers.  We visited several farms that capitalize on people’s desires to be on a farm, but they also include opportunities to stay over in a hotel or “caravan park” (campground) on the farm, and several also offer spa experiences.  The “farm stay” concept that is so common in Scandinavia is just now beginning to spread across the U.S.
  • Animal welfare laws concern livestock operators.  As we see here in the U.S., new regulations on livestock housing have affected the bottom line of operators forced to make housing changes.  Several operators noted the financial challenges of complying with new requirements, with some choosing not to continue under the new laws.
  • Cooperative models are thriving.  We visited a cooperative for fruit and vegetable producers in a mountain region of Norway, a sheep farm that developed a slaughterhouse to manage processing for other local livestock operators, and a start-up processing facility for pea and legume growers in Sweden, all using cooperative business structures similar to ours here in the U.S.

While some of the issues vary in Scandinavia, the attachment to farming is not all that different.  One of my favorite quotes from the trip illustrates the similarity.  The father in a father-son operation stated to us: “We are proudly farming, growing wheat and potatoes and having chickens.”  Proudly farming—a practice shared by U.S. and Scandinavia farmers alike, in the midst of varying legal issues and opportunities.

Learn more about the International Farm Management Association at   https://www.ifma.network/.  The next IFMA Congress takes place in 2024 in Saskatchewan, Canada.