Untapped Potential in Vegetable Farming in Iceland

Iceland’s government aims to increase the country’s vegetable production by 25%, but MP Ágúst Ólafur Ágústsson says it could easily be boosted by 400%. Icelandic farmers could grow up to 60% of the vegetables Icelanders consume, according to the Chairman of the Farmers Association of Iceland. The opportunities lie both in greenhouse agriculture and outdoors, and could contribute toward both climate goals and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding for the Four-Legged

In a radio interview this morning, Ágúst, an MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, pointed out that the majority of the Icelandic government’s farming subsidies go toward sheep and cattle farming. “[Government] agricultural contracts are based on the four-legged and not the green,” he stated. “Only about 5% goes to horticultural products. Twelve billion [ISK, ($88.7 million/€74.9 million)] go toward sheep farming and cattle farming, so state support for horticultural farmers is far too small.”

Ólafur believes lowering electricity prices for greenhouse farmers and subsidising their transportation costs would support growth in the industry. He added that increasing vegetable production could be a well-formulated government employment policy, rather than just a side project.

Greenhouse Growth

Gunnar Þorgeirsson, Chairman of the Farmers Association of Iceland, says Iceland’s horticultural farmers are ambitious and there is growth in the industry. “I think this is the first time that more than 10,000 square metres [of greenhouse space] have been built in a single summer […] greenhouses are springing up like mushrooms,” Gunnar stated. He credits the government contract with horticultural farmers, renewed last spring until 2026, for the industry’s expansion, though he agrees with Ólafur that subsidised electricity costs would go a long way toward supporting horticultural farmers.

Locally produced vegetables also have a lower carbon footprint than the same products imported from abroad, according to a 2015 study. Gunnar says Icelanders are increasingly seeking out local food and therein lies an opportunity.

Outdoor Opportunities

Gunnar insists, however, that the biggest opportunity in the industry lies outside the glass walls. “First and foremost, we need to strengthen outdoor vegetable cultivation. There we can also be looking at why we can’t be producing onions in Iceland, because that’s quite possible. We just need to find someone who’s up for the project.” Radishes are another vegetable that Gunnar says Icelanders could be growing. “We are importing them like there’s no tomorrow and they grow here almost like a weed. There is an incredible number of species that we can definitely cultivate here in Iceland and we just need to support that and steer men and women in the right direction.”

Changes to Current COVID-19 Restrictions from Minister of Health

face mask

Current regulations regarding mask use and the number of customers in stores and swimming pools have been updated by Minister of Health Svandís Svarasdóttir. The Minister decided to make the updates to the current COVID-19 restrictions that took effect on July 31 following a recommendation from the Chief Epidemiologist. The updated restrictions will stand for the same duration, until August 13.

Mandatory Mask Use and 50% Capacity at Pools

Firstly, the updated regulations will make mask use mandatory for all trips on public transportation lasting longer than 30 minutes. There had been confusion on this issue recently following contradicting statements from Strætó representatives.

The changes also clarify how many customers are permitted in stores and swimming pools at one time, applying the same regulations used earlier this year. In addition to upholding 2-metre distancing, pools will not be permitted to operate at over 50% capacity.

The changes also ban the granting of exemptions for events that may encourage gatherings past 11.00pm, the time when bars and restaurants are currently mandated to close.

Iceland Had Third-Highest Spending on Culture in Europe

Design March Fetival 2019 Hönnunarmars

Around 2.5% of Iceland’s total general government expenditure in 2018 went toward cultural services. Iceland’s government spending on culture was the third-highest in Europe that year, surpassed only by Hungary (2.7%) and Latvia (2.8%). Nearly one third of this funding went toward culture workers’ salaries, though it also supported museums, theatres, broadcasting, and publishing.

hagstofan culural expenditure
Hagstofan.

Municipal Budgets Devote More to Culture than State

Culture funding has remained at similar levels in the past 10 years, ranging between 2.2% and 2.6% of general expenditure. A larger proportion of municipal government spending went to culture than state spending in 2018. While municipal governments devoted 4.7% of their general expenditure toward culture that year, the state proportion was 1.5%.

When both municipal and state spending is considered, 31% of all culture spending went toward compensation of employees. The largest proportion, 42%, went toward the use of goods and services, including purchases and expert services from non-employees. The third-largest portion, 12%, went toward subsidies, which include Artists’ Salaries.

Higher Spending on Broadcasting

When it comes to broadcasting, 0.5% of Iceland’s total general government expenditure went toward broadcasting and publishing services, above the EU-27 average of 0.4%. This figure has remained similar since 2009, though it reached 0.8% in 2015.

The data was published yesterday by Statistics Iceland as part of the institution’s work towards increasing the visibility of statistics regarding culture and media.