Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä is calling for Finland to stop importing soybeans within the next five years.
In a blog post on his personal website on Tuesday, the Centre Party MP argued that imported soybean meal would be unnecessary if domestic production of broad beans (also known as fava beans) were to be expanded to 80,000 hectares, up from 22,000 hectares (data from 2017).
"This expanded amount would account for about four percent of Finland's farmland," Leppä said. A total of 7 percent of Finland's land mass is used for farming.
Leppä's special adviser Satu Haapaniemi told Yle that the minister's aim is to primarily stop using soy in Finland as animal fodder; originally Leppä did not differentiate between the different uses of the soy bean.
Late on Tuesday he specified that the use of soy for human consumption should also be curbed.
"There are all sorts of different non-animal foods these days. We are hoping for innovations that could replace soy in all uses as far as possible. But the main message here is the animal feed," Leppä said.
In his original blog post Leppä notes that imports of soy for livestock feed have risen significantly in the past decade. Most of it comes from the US as well as Brazil, whose leadership recently came under international criticism for encouraging the razing of rainforests for new farmlands.
Leppä asserts that Brazilian soybeans do not meet accountability criteria or Finland's target of carbon neutrality by 2035. Therefore he argues that Finland should be essentially soy-free by 2025.
He notes that soy is an important source of protein for animal feed, but that the Finnish feed industry has worked hard to replace it with domestic raw materials such as oats, peas and rapeseed.
Soy still fed to pigs and chickens
Finnish milk and beef production is already nearly soy-free, says Leppä, who is a long-time beef and dairy farmer himself.
In pork production, soy accounts for about six percent of fodder, Marjukka Manninen, an expert at the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK), told the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat last week. Meanwhile about 15 percent of feed for broiler chickens comes from soy, with the rest mostly domestic grains.
"This is the right direction when we think about climate change as well as changing food trends. We have very great potential in this protein-rich domestic crops," Leppä writes.
He says it is realistic that for instance 80,000 hectares of broad bean cultivation could replace all imports of soybean meal, noting that this would be less than four percent of Finland's cultivated land.
One of the few holdovers from the previous Centre-led cabinet, Leppä has been Minister of Agriculture and Forestry since May 2017. He has been a beef and dairy farmer in South Savo since 1980 and an MP since 1999, earning the dubious distinction of being the MP with the highest earnings from agricultural subsidies for several years running, to the tune of 120,000 euros in 2016.