Sweden is the third largest country in the European Union (E.U.), stretching to above the Arctic Circle. Its population and its agriculture are focused further south. It has a concentrated grain processing sector with a high level of vertical integration between milling and baking and processing.

The International Grains Council (IGC) forecasts Sweden’s total grains production in 2017-18 at 5.7 million tonnes, up from 5.4 million the year before. Wheat production is put at 3.1 million tonnes, up from 2.8 million. The barley crop is forecast at 1.7 million tonnes, up from 1.5 million. Output of oats is put at 600,000 tonnes, down from 800,000.

In its interim report for January-August 2017, the co-operative Lantmännen, a major player in the Swedish grains sector, described the harvest as “of good quality in terms of falling number and specific weight, and both wheat and malting barley show good protein content. More negative quality factors are a dark color on late-harvested oats and some skin damage to malting barley.”

According to the European grain sector body COCERAL, Sweden’s total 2017 grains production was 5.941 million tonnes from 993,000 hectares, compared with 5.428 million in 2016 from 1.001 million hectares. The 2017 crop of soft wheat was 3.292 million tonnes, from 471,000 hectares, compared with 2.803 million the year before, from 447,000 hectares. Barley production in 2017 was 1.676 million tonnes, from 311,000 hectares, up from 1.533 million from 320,000 the year before. Of the barley total, spring barley accounted for, in 2017, 1.551 million tonnes from 292,000 hectares, and, in 2016, 1.424 million tonnes from 301,000 tonnes.

COCERAL put Sweden’s rye production at 150,000 tonnes from 22,000 hectares in 2017, up from 105,000 tonnes from 17,000 hectares in 2016. The crop of oats was 626,000 tonnes in 2017, from 150,000 hectares, down from 774,000 tonnes in 2016 from 174,000 hectares.

Sweden also produced 53,000 tonnes of sorghum from 14,000 hectares in 2017, up from 45,000 tonnes in 2016, from 13,000 hectares. Sweden’s 2017 triticale production is put at 145,000 tonnes from 25,000 hectares, down from 168,000 tonnes from 30,000 hectares in 2016.

In oilseeds, according to COCERAL’s estimates, Sweden produced 383,000 tonnes of rapeseed in 2017, from 112,000 hectares, compared with 267,000 tonnes in 2016, from 91,000 hectares. Sunflower production was put at an unchanged 3.000 tonnes from 2,000 hectares.

Flour Milling Sector

According to the European Flour Millers, there are 10 mills in Sweden, with a total annual capacity of 900,000 tonnes (wheat equivalent). It puts flour production at 550,000 tonnes. European Flour Millers 2016 handbook lists integrated companies, with Nordmills owned by the agricultural co-operative Lantmännen, Strängnäs owned by Nordmills/Lantmännen, Lilla Harrie Valskvarn (Farina) owned by Pågen, and Wasabröd owned by Barilla. It lists the 10 most important mills as Nordmills, Farina, Barilla, Strängnäs, Abdon Mills, Skåne-möllan, Leksands, Berte and Frebaco.

The European trade organization reckons that Sweden’s millers process about 30% of the available domestic wheat for flour and import durum and small quantities of soft wheat, notably Canadian Spring Wheat.

Nordmills’ operations are at the mills in Uppsala and Malmö, where the Nord Mills brand is manufactured, according to the company’s website. The mill in Strängnäs produces the Polstjärnan brand. It also has a production facility in Järna that produces breakfast products and pasta. The company mills the equivalent of approximately 400,000 tonnes per year.

Sweden wheat production
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Lilla Harrie Valskvarn consumes 120,000 tonnes of wheat and rye each year from Skåneslätten and Västgötaslätten in two mills in Lilla Harrie and Västra Frölunda. The company says that it corresponds to a quarter of Sweden’s consumption of bakery flour. A large part of the flour goes to the family bakery, Pågen.

Finax describes itself as a family company from Helsingborg, where its mills are also located.

Kobia AB is part of Abdon Finax Group, a family-owned group of companies based in Helsingborg in Sweden, operating worldwide. The companies in Abdon Mills have a combined annual turnover of about 7 billion SEK and have more than 500 employees.

Of the two crispbread producers, Wasabröd is a part of the Barilla Group, while Leksands is a sixth-generation family company.

Skåne-möllan owns three mills and increased production to 54,000 tonnes in 2016.

Agri-food cooperative Lantmännen plays a major role in the country’s grains industry. On its website the co-operative introduces itself with the words, “Lantmännen is an agricultural cooperative and Northern Europe’s leader in agriculture, machinery, bioenergy and food products. Owned by 25,000 Swedish farmers, we have 10,000 employees, operations in over 20 countries and an annual turnover of SEK 40 billion.”

The company’s annual review for 2016 explains its role in agriculture.

“Lantmännen Lantbruk buys and sells grain, oilseeds and pulses,” it said. “The volume in 2016 was about 2.9 million tonnes. About half the quantity went to Lantmännen’s own industries. Swedish grain exports are estimated to be 1.5 million tonnes for the 2016 harvest year, with Lantmännen accounting for a significant proportion of this. There is considerable interest in Swedish export grain, as the harvests in France and the Baltic region were lower than normal. Lantmännen Lantbruk’s most important markets for grain exports are wheat to the Mediterranean, malting barley to Germany and the Benelux countries and oats to Germany, Benelux and the United States.”

Food demand changes

In its Annual Report for 2016, the cooperative considered how the changing population is affecting food demand.

“Demand in Sweden is becoming increasingly diversified as a result of urbanization, population growth and an increased population with a foreign background,” the company said. “Urbanization is a strong trend throughout the world and is also continuing in Sweden, mainly in large cities and the 20 largest municipalities outside the metropolitan areas.

“Consumers’ increased interest in food and sustainability presents opportunities for Swedish farming. There is scope for creating added value in the food chain, while farms can obtain better prices for their produce. Increased demand for vegetable protein, e.g. from pulses, allows for increased profitability from growing these crops.”

Attitudes to GMOs are mixed. In an attaché report on agricultural biotechnology in the E.U. member states, Sweden was listed as part of a group in which “forces willing to adopt the technology (mainly scientists and professionals of the agricultural sector) are counterbalanced and usually outmatched by forces rejecting it (retailers, consumers and governments, with activists holding significant sway over the public discourse).” The attaché report divides E.U. countries into “adopters,” “conflicted” and those that are opposed to all use of genetic modification. Sweden used to be an adopter, but it has been in the conflicted group since 2015, when the feed industry decided not to use GE ingredients,” it said.