Robbie Andrew

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Background on Norwegian agriculture

As part of learning about Norwegian agriculture, including sustainability issues, I've assembled some information and data here, mostly for my own use. But if you find anything of interest, you're welcome to use it.

Note this page is intended primarily for a Norwegian audience. I apologise for the mixed languages! (Og evt. skrivefeil!)


The difficult terrain, thin soils, and unforgiving climate of Norway mean that there is little land suitable for agriculture. Through the centuries, harvests have been highly unreliable, such that Norwegians have long struggled to secure sufficient food. Famines caused by both poor yields and blockades during wars have scarred Norway and left a strong feeling that agriculture must be built up and protected as much as possible. Moreover, the sense of national identity is strongly connected to how the country looks, most importantly the 'cultural landscape': the land has been modified and tamed over centuries of hard work to eke out an existence. Maintaining regional food production and the cultural landscape are two very important national policies in Norway.

Only 2.5% of the land area is considered as agricultural land, although larger, unmanaged areas are used for summer grazing, particularly of sheep.

Of the agricultural area, a large majority is used for growing grass and grain to feed to livestock, with only 8-10% used to produce plant foods for direct consumption by people.

As with other developed countries, the amount that Norwegian households spend on food and drink has dropped dramatically as a share of their total expenditure, from over 40% in the late 1950s to about 15% today.

Note that these data come from SSB's consumer surveys (tables 06368, 06366 and 10235), which are a more direct and probably more correct source than using SSB's national accounts (09172).

Interestingly, this figure takes no account of what Norwegians pay through taxes for food production in Norway. It is usual to look only at disposal of after-tax income, but with Norway's very high economic support to agricultural production, it is likely that food is actually a higher share of the gross income disposal total than indicated here.


About half of all feed concentrate in Norway is fed to ruminants (sheep and cattle), with about a quarter each to pigs and poulty.

About 60% of ingredients used in feed concentrate was produced in Norway in 2017, but protein is heavily dependent on imported ingredients such as soy, rapeseed, and maize.

(The data split between imported and domestically produced vitamins and minerals has been incorrect in some years, and is expected to be about half and half, with limestone being produced in Norway.)

Protein is the ingredient that has increased the most in Norwegian livestock feed, and this growth is primarily from rapeseed pellets, while the soya content has been largely stable in recent years. Fish protein has declined considerably.

Norwegian grain supply

Norway's grain production has seen significant changes over the last 100 years. Data before 1923 are highly uncertain, but it is known that the production area was somewhat higher during 1917–1920 as a result of "tvangsdyrkningen" (forced cultivation) connected with the First World War (see Jordbruk og Fedrift 1916–1920 by Det Statistiske Centralbyrň). (Blandkorn indicates where more than one type of grain was grown on the reported areas.)

An excellent overview of the historical development of Norway's grain supply can be found in a report by Hageberg & Smedshaug.

SSB says that one important reason for the decline in agricultural area since 2006 is actually improved data collection. Digital maps based initially on aerial photography have been used more and more since 2006.

The production of food grains in Norway increased sharply after the Second World War as a result of increased use of artificial fertiliser, breeding, and mechanisation. While high proportions of wheat are consumed directly as food, most oat, rye, and barley produced is used as livestock feed.

Grain yields grew strongly from the 1960s through the 1980s and have levelled off since. Volatility from year to year is very high. The apparent decline in oat yields in recent years in the figure is probably a result of a few particularly poor years, rather than a new trend.

In the 1960s, almost all grain used for human consumption in Norway was imported.

The volatility in supply of domestic wheat to human consumption is largely down to weather. Both harvest yield amount and protein content are lower in poor years. When protein content is too low, wheat must be sold for feed instead of food, and farmers receive less income. This risk is too much for some farmers to bear, and they intentionally grow feed grains or even fodder grass instead.

The amount of grain-based products that Norway has been importing directly has grown very strongly in the last 20 years, and this is an important part of the overall picture of grain supply. The import toll on bread dough is lower than that on grains and flour, encouraging the import of near-finished products.

According to Hageberg & Smedshaug, about 50%-60% of these goods is flour, and flour can be assumed to be about 72% of the grain. The weights of imported flour-based products can therefore be multiplied by a factor of about 0.76 to obtain approximate grain-equivalent weights.

This would suggest that imports in 2017 of bread-based products were equivalent to about 135 thousand tonnes of grain, mostly wheat, which would have required about 300 thousand dekar (30 thousand hectares) of Norwegian yield. These bread imports are therefore very likely a core reason for the reductions in wheat growing area in Norway since 1990.

The Norwegian dairy transition

Increased use of concentrated feeds (kraftf˘r) and selective breeding have led to substantial increases in the yield of milk per dairy cow. Along with slowly declining demand for milk, this has led to a significant decline in the number of both dairy cows and dairy farms.

According to SSB (table 03688), in 1990 the number of dairy farms in Norway was about 28,000, while this had dropped to under 8000 by 2018.

The strong decline in the number of dairy cattle has led to an undersupply of beef in the Norwegian market. The beef (ammeku) industry is growing, but in the meantime imports of beef have increased sharply to fill the supply gap.

Under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which allows countries to lower import tariffs in specific cases to support delevoping countries, Norway allows imports of beef from Namibia and Botswana up to 2700 tonnes per year free of import tariffs. These imports must meet Norway's strict quality standards.

Norwegian meat consumption

Norway's consumption of meat has steadily increased, mostly of pork and poultry.

It is very important to note that the figure below shows 'gross' meat consumption. Gross consumption does not reflect how much is actually eaten by Norwegians, but rather how much is available on the market. It takes no account for waste, diversion to petfood manufacture, or even bones. Various media outlets commonly inappropriately compare gross meat consumption per capita to the Health Ministry's guidelines. Unfortunately the Health Ministry itself doesn't help here since it also publishes consumption in gross terms.

While Norwegian meat production data are available from 1959, sufficiently detailed international trade data from SSB appear to only be available from 1988, limiting these time-series. While imports of meat appear to be relatively insignificant in earlier years, exports are non-negligible, as we'll see in a later figure.

The figure below shows the same data, but in line form instead of stacked areas. This format makes it easier to see the progress of individual categories. Here I compare to NIBIO's more careful efforts to calculate the same data (published by Animalia in their annual 'Kj°ttets Tilstand', with method documented here), demonstrating that my more approximate method performs well.

Here we can see very clearly the real drop in poultry consumption in 2015 as a result of the discovery of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both chicken and turkey, the so-called narasinkrise. The industry responded very quickly to this crisis, phasing out narasin entirely and replacing its use with a vaccine that is applied as a dust shower to chicks, and poultry consumption has recovered back to previous levels.

Changes in per capita consumption of meat are largely in increased consumption of poultry, from 2 kg per person in the late 1980s to 10 kg per person today. In the late 1950s this was less than 500 g per person.

Note here we can see that beef supply per person has actually been relatively flat.

Converting to actual consumption per capita reduces these rates considerably, especially for poultry, for which NIBIO assumes about 50% of the gross weight is actually consumed by people. NIBIO currently estimates average consumption of total meat per person at 54 kg per year, including both wild catch and 'grensehandel' (private purchases from neighbouring countries, mostly Sweden).

Norway's Health Ministry recommends limiting consumption of red and processed meats to 500 grams per week, equivalent to about 26 kg per year. NIBIO's statistics show that consumption in Norway currently averages about 42 kg per year, far above the recommendation. Note that red meat is defined to include pork.

Making use of earlier trade data available from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), we can extend the series back as far as 1959. (These data mostly originate from Norwegian sources, and match very well the data from SSB from 1988 onwards.) Here we see considerable volatility in the annual estimates, particularly for pork and beef, most likely due to data problems, so I present smoothed versions to indicate the general trends.

Looking at this figure does make one wonder whether meat consumption in Norway has just reached its peak.

Of particular interest here is that, at 25 kg, consumption of red meat per person in 1960 was approximately equal to the Health Ministry's current recommended limit of 26 kg. But over the last 60 years consumption has grown to 42 kg per person. (Whenever making these comparisons we must remember that health guidelines apply to individuals, and the average hides the fact that there is a significant distribution of consumption, with some eating a great deal more than the average and some a great deal less. That the average is significantly higher than the recommendation is certainly cause for concern.)

While gross supply of meat has increased by 115% per capita over this period, because of the greatly increased share of poultry, with its much higher unconsumed proportion than the other meats, actual consumption has increased by 87% per capita.

A core assumption here is that the proportion of gross carcass weight actually consumed is relatively constant over the entire period, something that might not be true. For pork and poultry, there has been a trend towards larger weights per animal, reflecting greater meat fractions from breeding, and this trend would suggest that the net-gross ratio was lower for these animals in earlier years; if true, this would suggest the curves should be a little lower in the earlier years.

Download image: English | Norsk

And here is total consumption, but note that this excludes both wild meat (from hunting) and cross-border trade (grensehandel).

Download image: English | Norsk

Despite Norway's very high production costs, the country does export some meat. However, these exports are dominated by pork, much of which is exported to Europe for processing into sausages and then imported again as finished products.

In 2017, following several years of overproduction of sheepmeat, Norway exported some sheepmeat to Afghanistan below cost, something which drew heavy criticism. However, the amount registers only as a small orange blip on the figure below.

In 1999 there were considerable exports of meat, a result of the combination of overproduction and of the imminent conclusion of the phase-in period of new WTO rules restricting subsidies on exported agricultural products (and of Norway's flexible interpretation of these rules). Export subsidies have long been used to reduce the domestic effects of overproduction of agricultural commodities in countries that are otherwise uncompetitive on the world market. Norway still has export subsidies in place on pork, cheese, and butter, though after a WTO decision in Nairobi in 2015 these will be phased out by the end of 2020.

Transport modes of imported food

Norway imports a great deal of food, particularly grains, fruit and vegetables, production of which Norway's climate and soils are not especially well suited to (at least the types that are demanded by consumers).

The largest fraction of imported foods by weight come to Norway by ship, which is the most efficient form of transportation with respect to both energy and emissions. Air transport is the mode that results in the most energy use and emissions per kilogram, but thankfully only a very small proportion of Norway's food imports arrive by air.

These are the modes of transport used when the commodity crossed Norway's border, and can't be assumed to be the modes used all the way from the country of origin. Because of this, estimating CO2 emissions from this transportation is difficult without more detailed data.

Of the almost 3 million tonnes of food imported into Norway every year, only about 6000 tonnes were imported by airfreight. These are foods that have very short shelf-lives, and transportation time must be kept to an absolute minimum.

And when I say 'only about 6000 tonnes', here for comparison are exports of just fish from Norway by airfreight, amounting to 150 thousand tonnes. Norway exports 25 times as much fish by air as it imports of all foods combined by air. If we're going to think about reducing emissions associated with food transport, then exports would clearly be the place to start, not imports.


After the Second World War, Norway undertook significant planting as part of its policy to rebuild the country. Much of the planting in the 1960s, peaking at over 100 million trees per year, was undertaken by schoolchildren. Since 1925, the amount of wood in standing forests in Norway has trebled from about 300 million cubic metres to over 900 million cubic metres.

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