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.
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.
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.”