Farms and Farmers

Finland Table of Contents

Finland's agriculture was based on privately owned family farms. This was especially the case after 1922, when the republic, anxious to reduce rural discontent, implemented the first of a series of land reforms that redistributed land to tenants and to landless farm workers. After World War II, the government resettled some 40,000 farm families displaced from areas occupied by the Soviet Union. The postwar resettlement program also transferred land to farms considered too small for efficient operations, many of which had been set up in the interwar period.

As a result of the resettlement program, Finland was one of the few industrialized countries in which the number of farms increased after 1945; by 1950 there were about 260,000 farms. The number of farms started to decline in the 1960s, however, falling to about 200,000 by 1981. The decrease in the number of farms caused an increase in average farm size, but large farms still remained rare. Thus, in the mid-1980s, about 60 percent of farms covered less than ten hectares, 25 percent included between ten and twenty hectares, and only 15 percent occupied more than twenty hectares. At that time, both large and small farms were disappearing, leaving an increasing number of farms that were between ten and twenty hectares. Observers predicted that this trend was likely to continue.

In the late 1980s, the average farm comprised twelve hectares of arable land and thirty-five hectares of forest. The relative proportions of field holdings to forest holdings varied from region to region; in the south, farmers tended to own more arable land but less forest, while in the north, the reverse was true. Farm families formed the basic production unit. Family members provided about 95 percent of farm labor; wage earners supplied the remainder. Most farms specialized in one or two activities, such as hog production, dairy farming, or grain cultivation. Although in the early postwar years most farms produced some milk, by the early 1980s only one out of three farms did so, and about half of all farms had no farm animals. This tendency toward specialization increased the efficiency of Finland's relatively small production units.

Farm incomes lagged behind those of the total population. For example, according to a 1984 study, the average income of fulltime farmers totaled only 70 percent of that of industrial workers. Nevertheless, income disparities between agriculture and other sectors were probably less severe than these figures indicate because many farm families supplemented their incomes with earnings from forestry and other occupations. In the mid1980s , only 62 percent of farmers' incomes came from agriculture, while another 26 percent was derived from wages and 12 percent was earned from forestry.

Farmers had a strong tradition of practical and political cooperation. In the late 1980s, some 90 percent of Finnish farmers belonged to agricultural unions, which were divided between those for Finnish speakers and those for Swedish speakers. More than 330,000 union members belonged to 430 Finnish-language locals or to 80 Swedish-language locals. Founded in 1917, the Confederation of Agricultural Producers (Maataloustuottajain Keskusliitto--MTK) served as an umbrella organization for agricultural unions, and it represented farmers in agricultural price negotiations with the government and with other producer groups.

In addition to joining unions that helped influence farm policy, farmers had established cooperative associations that provided farm supplies, shared marketing expenses, and arranged farm financing. The umbrella organization of farm cooperatives was the Pellervo Society, which had more than a million members. Each branch of agriculture organized its own cooperatives to handle sales of farm products and purchases of supplies. Cooperative banks provided about half of all money used to finance farming, and cooperative insurance associations handled farm and crop insurance.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress