Husband and wife, Sam and Georgina Bevin left their former jobs in the UK to start farming in Norway. Here Emily Ashworth talks to them about their decision to move.
How did you come to buy a farm in Norway?
Sam and I never intentionally looked to farm in Norway, but it was an opportunity than presented itself and we were sure we would have regretted it later in life if we hadn’t of given it a go. We both come from farming families and grew up on farms helping our parents. Together we had always dreamed of owning our own farm however in the UK, it is virtually impossible to start from scratch due to land prices, availability and set up costs.
We met while travelling and working in Hellesylt, Norway, in 2008. Sam is a sheep shearer and had been working the Autumn season over there, and I was wool grading in the abattoir, working as part of a gang for three months.
I have done four seasons out there and Sam has been working the shearing season for 15 years. In that time, we gained a great experience and familiarity of the local area and people.
In 2015, Sam was back there shearing when he found out the farm was for sale. Naturally he thought it would be too expensive, but it wasn’t. He rang me in the UK and said, ’do you want to buy a farm in Norway?’, and as they say, the rest is history.
We love the fact that we can actually afford to buy a farm here to start with and it’s a good work life balance. In the winter we can milk in the evening then go skiing around the flood lit track opposite the farm. In the Summer we can hike up numerous mountains, kayak on the fjord and spend days on the beach.
What do you farm and on what scale?
Our dairy farm, Kjellstadlia, is in the Mid -Western county of Norway called Møre og Romsdal, a seven-hour drive from the Capital city of Oslo.
In my opinion we live in one of the most picturesque places in the world.
Our farm is nestled in to the side of a mountain, 465 metres above sea level and settled amongst forests and rivers with panoramic scenic views. On 142ha (350 acres) we run at maximum 18 Norwegian Red cows with 97,294 litres of quota. We are primarily a dairy business but run a small flock of sheep too.
The cows are on an autumn calving system from September to mid-November and in the last two years, we’ve had four sets of twins and one set of triplets. They are milked in the stalls on a direct line twice a day. The milk is collected every third day and each cow produces an average of 6,000 litres per lactation.
Can you tell us about the milk price in Norway?
The base milk price currently is 4.8 Norwegian krone per litre (approximately £0.45ppl at the current exchange rate).
Additional payments also exist. You get 0.07kr (£0.0065p) per litre of milk where the fat content is higher than 4 per cent and again, 0.07kr for protein higher than 3.2 per cent.
What obstacles have you had to overcome, moving from the UK to Norway?
In the beginning there were daily challenges but now, thankfully, not as much. It has to be expected though when setting up a farming business in another country.
Every year we face a long winter, when the livestock are housed - the cows for eight months and sheep for six months. We’re constantly ensuring there is enough winter forage and keep a close eye on the management of the slurry storage as we experience continual snowfall. This year there was 1.8 metres of snow on the ground from November 1 to May 1.
In terms of living here there’s the language, legislation and administration issues. Obviously, everything is written in Norwegian, but we admit we were not prepared for the challenge that we faced when it comes to reading contracts, filling out forms and using the online systems. Luckily, most Norwegian’s speak very good English but there are some that don’t want to. We manage to get by with a few basic sentences, but Google translate has definitely become our best friend.
Sourcing equipment and spare parts is something else that surprised us as they’re items not easily found or readily available. We usually have to take a two-hour drive to the nearest big town to source cheaper goods because in nearer smaller places, they can be much more expensive. Because the population in Norway is considerably smaller, there isn’t a need for numerous suppliers selling the same product. The competition is absent therefore the price is higher.
What are some of the main differences between UK farming and farming in Norway?
The first one is the difference in farm size and level of production. To give you an idea, in Norway a small dairy farm averages around ten cows, medium consists of fifteen to twenty-five and anything over forty is considered big.
Norwegian terrain can also restrict production. Land in the UK can be challenging too but not restrictive like rocky mountains for example, where this ultimately determines how much forage you can produce and how many animals you can keep and feed throughout the winter.
There is also only one co-operative dairy company, Tine (pronounced Tina) compared to the UK where there are numerous. We believe this is what keeps the milk price relatively high and stable.
Climate differs hugely too, with long snowy Winters which merge into Spring. In Spring, we still have snow on the ground but with bright blue skies and lots of sunshine.
Another difference, subsidy payments come from within the Norwegian government as opposed to in the UK they currently come from the EU. This highlights how supportive Norway is of its agricultural industry. Commodity prices are generally higher than the UK, but it is all relative as we get paid a higher price for the product.
What is the view of farming in your country? Are people interested in food production?
Farming is not a full-time job for most people. Many of our neighbours work full time elsewhere and can farm around their job with support from family and relief workers. This also occurs in the UK however the Norwegian Government are providing funding for agency agricultural workers to allow farmers to have another job and keep the farm.
There is respect and support surrounding agriculture in Norway and there is a good level of education surrounding the subject in schools. For example, we have seen the local primary school take children as young as six-years-old to the local abattoir for a tour of the whole process of meat production.
In our area, most families will hunt deer according to the quota or buy venison from friends. A lot of farmers and hunters will process the deer themselves and often with involvement from their children.
It’s also in the culture to process your own food within families. Many still forage and make jams and preserves for the winter months and home pickling and the preserving of meat and fish is very common.
Can you tell us about any traditional foods or events in Norway?
Pinekjøtt is a speciality dish in our area at Christmas. It is simply lamb ribs which have been salted, dry cured for up to three months and then boiled for 8 hours. In other regions, pork ribs are very popular and Norwegian people generally eat a big Christmas feast on Christmas eve.
In general, venison is in abundance and very tasty. Many families will have freezers stocked with venison, dry fish and other types of fresh fish.
Norway’s cultural tradition is the waffle. A lot thinner and lighter than the Belgian waffle, the traditional topping is jam and sour cream and there is also ’brun ost’, which is a sweet caramelised brown cheese and a staple in most Norwegian homes. Coffee and cake is popular in Norwegian culture too, enjoyed at any time of the day and the cake is very light, filled with cream and beautifully decorated with fresh berries.
We celebrate Norway’s national Independence Day on May 17 and it is celebrated throughout the whole country with parades taking place within the communities. Everyone will wear traditional national dress (Bunad), and every street and house are decorated with Norwegian flags. Everyone comes together to celebrate.