The average size of the farms varies substantially among the countries in the catchment, from around 10 hectares in Poland to around 150 hectares in Germany. Although there are still many small farms in the catchment, particularly in Poland, more than half of the agricultural land is now found on farms larger than 50 hectares. And more than 40% of the agricultural land is found on farms larger than 100 hectares.
In Denmark, Germany, and Sweden, most livestock is found on large farms, which is particularly evident in Denmark. In Poland, much of the livestock is still found on small farms. However, in total, the trend is clear during the period 2005-2013: more livestock on large farms and less livestock on small farms. This trend is also most evident in Poland and the Baltic States.
Parallel to this, agricultural is becoming increasingly specialised, which means that some regions in each country are dominated by crop production and others by livestock production.
Larger and more specialised farms can have several different effects on the environment and the countryside. For instance, there is a clear risk that the geographical distances between crop production and farms with large amounts of manure are increasing, which could in turn mean that nutrients are not being used efficiently and that the risk of eutrophication will increase.
At the same time, the ongoing structural transformation may also provide opportunities to use manure nutrients more efficiently in cultivating crops by, for example, increasing the technology and capacity for manure storage. Livestock production, which generates manure, needs to be better connected to crop production.
The driving forces behind the structural transformation towards larger farms include technological advances, changes in the market, and agricultural policy. Larger farms are generally more profitable.
As larger farms emerge around the Baltic Sea and investments are made in them, I hope that politicians, public authorities, and farmers will not merely focus on financial gain, but also consider long-term sustainability and take action to reduce the negative impact of their enterprises on the environment.
What is needed is a well-developed structure and infrastructure in agriculture, which enables manure to be used efficiently – as the valuable resource that it is. This is an important part of reducing eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.