At Wapnö, Sweden’s largest dairy farm, sustainability and circularity are key. The farm uses modern technology to move towards organic closed-cycle agriculture, and the products are refined locally.

”Twenty years ago, Wapnö was an ordinary farm with cows and cropland. We sold our milk to the dairy industry, and did not interact with consumers directly”, says Lennart E. Bengtsson, CEO of Wapnö AB.

The Vapnö estate traces its history back to the 14th century. Today, the manor is owned by the agriculture and forestry company Wapnö AB. The business concept is based on principles of sustainable development. Photo: Wapnö.

”Then, Wapnö went down a different road. We wanted to become a company close to consumers, focusing on taste experience and environmental values. Our challenge now is to take the circularity of the farm to the next level”.

Sustainability for the future

”Wapnö farm has 2200 hectares of cropland and 450 hectares of forest. The dairy herd has 3600 cattle, and we employ about 70 people. By Swedish standards, the farm is large, but the food production remains a craft. Wapnö’s basic concept is organic closed-cycle farming, resulting in both business opportunities and an environmental advantage. We want to be sustainable for the future”, says Lennart E. Bengtsson, providing a number of examples:

  • Cattle-centered – Wapnö’s cows are free ranging, indoors and during summer grazing. The feed is grown on the farm, ensuring a natural crop rotation and an open landscape. Protein is provided by corn, and no soy is used. The rapeseed is pressed to reduce the fat content of the feed; in the future, rapeseed oil may be used as a biofuel to power vehicles and tools on the farm.
  • On-site dairy plant – A 30 m long pipeline carries the milk from the cowshed to the dairy plant. The specific time of milking is noted on the packages.
  • Renewable energy – A biogas production facility provides both heating and cooling, and the feedstock comes entirely from Wapnö Farm. About 36000 tonnes of liquid manure, 3000 tonnes of solid manure and 700 tonnes of feed residue go into the biogas chambers annually. The facility produces 230 – 250 m3 methane per hour. The gas is brought to the gas engine, which delivers 360 kW of electricity per hour, adding up to more than three million kWh annually. The energy system also produces six million kWh of heating and cooling, and the biogas heats both the greenhouse and other parts of the property. The system also provides cooling for the dairy plant, the farm shop and the abattoir.
  • Biofertilizer – the digestion process converts 40 000 tonnes of manure to energy and fertilizer. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the biofertilizer is distributed by a 30 m wide manure spreader – a system that saves 30000 km of tractor distance.
  • Vegetables – Greenhouse and open land cultivation provides a supply of Härodlat® products. The restaurant and farm shop can offer tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, kale, cabbage, onions and apples from the orchard.
  • Forestry – The milk cartons are mostly made from pulp.The growth of the company’s FSC-certified forestry operations compensate for the paper consumption on the farm.
  • Own water – A twelve meter deep artesian well supplies the farm with its own water. The water is very good and is also used in the farm brewery, where barley from the farm is turned into beer.

Härodlat (here-cultivated) and härproducerat (here-produced)

The Härproducerat® (here-produced) concept means that products are refined where they are produced. The cows are milked right next to the dairy plant. Illustration: Wapnö.

”Härodlat® (here-cultivated) and Härproducerat® (here-produced) are two concepts we work with. Härodlat means that we grow the feed for the cattle on our own fields, we grow the wheat for our flour products (Wapnö Wheat Flour and Spelt Flour), and we grow the barley, wheat and oat for the farm beer. We don’t put sludge on the fields, a principle of ours since 25 years. We want to avoid the associated risk of heavy metals and other contaminants from waste water treatment plants; our preferred way is to build a circular system here on the farm”, Lennart E. Bengtsson says.

”Härproducerat means that products are refined on-site, where the raw material is produced. It is good for the environment and generates jobs locally. This goes for our food products, but is also applied to energy and water. We founded an association with the same name to promote the concept to consumers. We hope that the association can inspire other companies and consumers that share our values”.

Protecting watercourses

”Obviously, Wapnö Farm affects the environment in various ways and we are working continously to reduce impact. One of the important issues is how to prevent nutrients – particularly phosphorus – from leeching from our croplands to watercourses. We have long been taking protective measures such as putting edge zones in place between the fields and surrounding streams, pits, trenches and lakes. We have also constructed three bioponds for phosphorus recovery”.

”We have spent ten years building a sustainable manure system. Now, the manure goes to the biogas facility and the digestion residue is subsequently used as fertilizer. We pump the manure to containers outside the cowshed and use a self-propelled manure spreader, which minimizes the need for vehicle transports. The storage containers can gather 12 months of manure, so we are free to choose when to add the fertilizer to the fields. This is good environmentally and economically”.

Modern technology, systematic methods

”We are employing modern technology. Using GPS to optimize the operating width of the equipment saves working hours and causes less soil compaction. Using wide farm tools with a seven-centimeter precision benefits the environment and makes the work easier. All operations and measures can easily be mapped”.

”We are using systematic methods to ensure environmental and quality standards. Wapnö Farm is certified according to ISO 9001 (quality management), ISO 14001 (environmental management) and ISO 22000 (food safety management). Labelling is also important to be able to communicate our sustainability efforts; the forestry is performed in accordance with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) standards, and the farm production is certified according to the HACCP
IP seal. All food products carry the KRAV-label”, Lennart E Bengtsson concludes.

The article was published in February 2017.