Elonkierto science path

The Exhibition Path of Elonkierto shows the roots of food production and draws the boundaries of the planet’s sustainability on the Finnish dinner table. Step along the science path and find out what is needed to produce your food and what the consequences are. This page summarises the park’s permanent exhibition.

Viljelyn historia
Ilmaston lämpeneminen
Kuluttajan valinnat


The first form of Finnish agriculture and food production was the slash-and-burn technique. Typically, slash-and-burn fields were used for growing wild rye and turnips. In Southwest Finland, the importance of slash-and-burn farming diminished already in the Middle Ages, but in eastern Finland, it remained practical until the mid-1800s.

After slash-and-burn farming, two-rotation farming became the predominant form of farming – the field was alternately sown and fallow. An unproductive fallow year was necessary because weeds could not be kept under control without fallow summer tillage, on the other hand, there was not enough manure for the entire arable land. In Southern Finland, the most important crop was rye, elsewhere more barley was grown. Other common crops were oats, peas, and beans. The average rye yield was 700 kg/hectare. The dominance of two-rotation farming remained until the late 1800s.

In the 1870s, cultivation methods began to develop rapidly. Arable farming of hay was started. Iron plows and mowers appeared in the fields and the number of dairy cattle increased rapidly.

During the wilderness economy, one Finn needed tens of hectares of forest and water areas to obtain food. In the slash-and-burn economy, about 5 hectares of slash-and-burn land was needed to meet one person’s annual grain needs, as slash-and-burn was performed every 40 years. The transition to arable farming and two-crop rotation made it possible to produce a similar diet on an area of 5 hectares for 12 people. With current farming methods, a 5-hectare field yields the same amount of grain for 80 people!

Humalaa Elonkierron Tiedepolulla.


Hops occupied a special position in the cultivation of spice crops in our country. The crown decided the number of hop poles that had to be kept in each house. In the 1500s, it was common in Southern Finland for specific taxes imposed by priests and judges to inhabitants to be paid with hops.

Hops were needed to produce an important product, beer. The acids and essential oils contained in its cones contribute to the brightening of beer, improve its preservation, and give it its characteristic bitterness. The cultivation of hops declined in the 1800s when it began to be imported.

The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) studies the suitability of Finnish old hops for aromatic hopping in beer. At the same time, the genetic diversity, cultivation characteristics, and other uses of hops, as well as cultivation methods, are studied. The goal is to get the best hops as healthy seedlings for nurseries and farmers.


Finland is the northernmost agricultural country in the world. Crop production is limited by low temperatures, short growing seasons, and, in some parts of the country, also by summer frosts. In addition, growth in southern Finland is limited by a lack of water.

The natural conditions for crop production are deteriorating towards the north, and the land is divided into cultivation zones based on climate. In the two southernmost zones, zones I and II, bread cereals can be produced, zones III to IV are suitable for feed grain production, and in the northernmost zone, zone V, only grasses thrive.

The average grain yield in Finland is 3500 kg/hectare, hay yield is 3700 kg/hectare and silage yield are 18000 kg/hectare. Feed grain is produced clearly above domestic needs. The bread grain harvest varies greatly due to weather conditions, which makes it necessary to resort to imports from time to time. Canola oil is produced in line with domestic consumption, but twice as much canola protein feed and canola groat is imported to Finland compared to domestic production. In terms of potatoes, Finland is self-sufficient and about a quarter of the sugar comes from domestic sugar beet.

Today, an increasing share of Finnish food consists of livestock products, which increases the need for arable land. As much as 80% of arable land is used to produce feed for livestock, and only 20% for the cultivation of directly edible plant products. Cattle feed production alone requires almost half of Finland’s arable land.

Elonkierto presents what is grown on Finnish fields and how much arable land is needed to produce different food raw materials for one average Finnish consumer. In addition, it is explained what else the field will be used for.

Of the crops, cereals, legumes, oilseeds, and fibre crops as well as buckwheat are presented in Elonkierto. In cereal and leguminous crops, in addition to the varieties currently in cultivation, old landraces can also be seen. In addition, we will talk about the effect of the length of the growing season on the growth of crops.


The development and intensification of agriculture in its present form have enabled enormous population growth. The cultivated arable area in Finland is now 2,260,000 hectares – about 0.42 hectares for each of us. There are 0.25 hectares of arable land per capita on the whole planet.

Finland is mainly self-sufficient in the most important food products, but bread grain has to be imported regularly. The milk self-sufficiency rate has also fallen to less than one hundred percent. The self-sufficiency rate of vegetables is about 70%, and about 40% of sugar is domestic. Eggs are produced more than domestic consumption, but meat products are imported to Finland more than exported. Protein feeds needed for feeding livestock must be imported to Finland, and correspondingly, feed grain is exported.


Plants need about 20 elements to maintain their structural elements and vital functions. The main part of the plant mass consists of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, which the plant receives from air and water. There are 12-16 essential nutrients plants get from the ground. Based on the amounts needed by the plant, nutrients are divided into main and micronutrients.

Plants take 10-200 kg/hectare of primary nutrients and micronutrients less than one kilogram per hectare per year. Different nutrients cannot replace each other’s functions. Thus, plant development is disturbed when even a single nutrient is lacking and when the ratios between nutrients differ sharply from the normal nutrient needs of plants.

Nutrient intake from the soil is a combination of the plant’s root system, soil microbes, and the soil’s nutrient retention capacity. In natural soil, plant cover uses the nutrients released from the soil efficiently and losses to air and water remain small. In arable land, the intermittent lack of plant cover exposes nutrients to leaching. Due to nutrient losses and high yield requirements, plant nutrients must be added to arable land by fertilisation.

Elonkierto presents the nutrient use of grain crops, nitrogen circulation in soil, biological nitrogen fixation, and soil phosphorus economy.


The development of livestock farming and farming are intertwined. Until the late 1800s, cattle feed was harvested from natural meadows, as hay cultivation in the fields did not become more common until the 1800s. The rotation of hay and grain enabled intensive animal husbandry and a good supply of manure. Cow feeding was improved, and cattle breeding work began.

Alkuperäiskarja alakynnessä

Ayrshire ja holstein ovat yleisimmät lypsykarjarotumme. Myös jerseyrotuisia lehmiä on alettu tuoda Suomeen. Lihantuotantoon soveltuvat lihaksikkaammat ja nopeammin kasvavat rodut, joista yleisimmät ovat hereford, angus, limousin ja charolais.

Maidontuotannossa käytettiin ennen valtaosaltaan maatiaisrotuja, mutta karjatalouden tehostuessa niiden määrä on vähentynyt uhkaavasti: kotimaista lypsykarjaa eli suomenkarjaa on vain reilu prosentti kaikista Suomen lypsylehmistä. Suomenkarjaan kuuluu kolme eri rotua: länsisuomalainen, itäsuomalainen eli kyyttö ja pohjoissuomalainen eli lapinlehmä.

Punaruskea länsisuomenkarja on maatiaisroduistamme suurituottoisin ja suurikokoisin. Puhdasrotuisia lehmiä on noin 1500 yksilöä, ja määrä vähenee huolestuttavasti.

Kyytön kyljet ovat punaruskeat, vatsa ja mahanalus valkeat, ja se on roduista vanhin. Viime vuosina puhdasrotuisten kyyttölehmien määrä on kasvanut monipuolisessa käytössä noin 1600 yksilöön, minkä vuoksi rotu ei ole enää uhanalainen samassa määrin kuin aiemmin.

Valkoinen lapinlehmä on edelleen harvinaisin, niitä on noin 1000 lehmää.

Suomenkarjan maito on hyvin valkuaispitoista, ja siinä on maidon juustoutumisominaisuuksia parantavaa valkuaisen kappakaseiinin B-tyyppiä runsaammin kuin muilla roduilla. Myös maidon rasvapitoisuus on yleensä korkea.


The beautiful traditional landscapes of our countryside have been created over the centuries as open, semi-open meadows and pasturages have been shaped by scythes, cattle, and fire. Pasturage is a fenced, natural pasture growing with trees and shrubs. Between the trees, there are patches of meadows of varying sizes. The sparse trees of pasture distinguish it from forest pasture, where the trees are denser.

Grazing-resistant species thrive on pasturages, while grazing-affected species decline. The species of wooded pastures vary according to the grazer’s taste: sheep, horses, and cattle all have their eating habits, gradually shaping the vegetation and landscape of the region. Sheep and goats carefully eat everything edible, while horses and cattle are pickier about nutrition.

Since grazing has moved to fields, traditional landscapes have begun to overgrow and become forested. During the 1900s, the number of traditional pastures dropped by 99%. The heritage environment can be managed through the agri-environment scheme. There are five hectares of forest and wooded land in the Elonkierto area, which is enough for four heifers or about 10 sheep. The old pastures of the river Loimijoki were grazed until the 1960s – grazing resumed in 1997.


In the greenhouse effect, gases in the Earth’s atmosphere limit the removal of solar radiation energy into space. Without any greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature of the Earth would be -18 degrees Celsius, and the Earth would be uninhabitable. The greenhouse effect intensifies when more greenhouse gases are released into the air than would be released by nature’s processes. The greenhouse effect is caused by the use of fossil fuels, land use change, and among other things, agriculture. The most significant greenhouse gases are methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide.

By 2100, the annual average temperature in the Nordic region is forecast to rise by as much as 4 Celsius. In this case, the temperature conditions in southern Finland would correspond to the current conditions in Denmark. Global warming would significantly improve Finland’s agricultural production capacity. Summers would become warmer, and winters would be wetter than before.

Despite global warming, the short growing season and the risk of spring frosts will continue to significantly limit Finland’s crop choice in the future. Also, not all crops thrive in Finland’s long-day conditions. Sorghum and sweet potatoes are unlikely to be grown in Finnish fields in the future either, but millet, yellow lupin, maize, and quinoa can also be successfully cultivated in Finland in the coming decades. Early soy varieties have also already been assessed for cultivating, in Finland.


Agriculture accounts for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Clearing forests for agricultural use increases carbon dioxide emissions, while animal husbandry and rice farming cause methane emissions. Nitrogen fertilisation, in turn, increases the amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. In Finland, agriculture accounts for 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. Elonkierto describes greenhouse gas emissions caused by agriculture and solutions for reducing emissions.


Food therefore plays a key role in consumers’ environmental impacts, as our food causes more than a third of all environmental impacts of consumption. How big amount carbon dioxide emissions do the food consumers cause? Emissions can be calculated uniformly as carbon dioxide equivalents, allowing the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the production of food raw materials to be compared.

Elonkierto works for biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and workable agricultural production.

The Fair Food Revolution (JustFood) project, coordinated by the Finnish Environment Institute, studies how the transition to a climate-smart and healthy food system can be made in a sustainable, acceptable, and fair manner.

Elintarvikkeiden raaka-aineiden tuotannosta aiheutuneet kasvihuonekaasupäästöt hiilidioksidiekvivalentteina. Pellon dityppioksidipäästöt 440 kg, maataloudessa käytetty energia 290 kg, märehtijöiden metaanipäästöt 280 kg, pellon hiilidioksidipäästöt 180 kg, lannan dityppioksidipäästöt 150 kg ja kalkituksen hiilidioksidipäästöt 60 kg. Näistä kertyy yhteensä 1400 kg, mikä jakautuu kuluttajan käyttämille elintarvikkeille seuraavasti: maito 630 kg, liha 500 kg, kasvistuotteet 160 kg, kananmunat 40 kg ja kasvihuonevihannekset 70 kg.
Yhdelle suomalaiselle vuoden aikana tuotettujen kotimaisten elintarvikkeiden raaka-aineiden tuotannosta aiheutuneet kasvihuonekaasupäästöt hiilidioksidiekvivalentteina. Lähde: Luonnonvarakeskus (Luke) ja Elonkierto.
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