Agriculture in Denmark is a very important component of the country’s overall economy, one which is likely to grow significantly over the coming years.
As a direct consequence, the commitment made by the country to agricultural education is significant.
Educational achievement has many ramifications throughout the agri economy of Denmark.
One of these is the requirement of Danish banks to only lend money to young farmers with a recognised agricultural qualification.
This entails the completion of an accredited college course, one that delivers at both an academic and skills level.
Education and training in Denmark
Agricultural students are also expected to spend time on a selection of Denmark’s top commercial farms.
If they do not achieve this level of experience, they will not secure the final qualifications and accreditation that they need.
Grasten Agricultural College, located in eastern Denmark, provides a range of courses to students from 16 to 20 years-of-age. The campus boasts both excellent facilities and 100 years’ of delivering agricultural courses to the highest standards.
The college will celebrate its centenary in 2024. It is home to 240 students and Agriland got to pay a visit to the operation along with the Irish Farm Buildings Association.
Agricultural education is free in Denmark. However, students boarding at Grasten make a contribution to the costs incurred in this regard.
Key to the evolution of Grasten has been the commitment of its staff to deliver courses that reflect the needs of Danish agriculture in an evolving manner.
Today the principle of delivering future sustainability on individual farms is the overarching principle being addressed.
This subject is approached both in terms of food security and the carbon footprint of agriculture.
So e.g., these issues are clearly reflected in the commitment to make the Grasten campus totally energy self-sufficient by 2025.
And major steps along this road have already been taken. The placement of solar panels on many of the college roofs and, the recent installation of a biogas plant means that the college can produce all of the electricity required from its own resources.
The feed stock for the biogas plant is the slurry generated by the college’s pig and dairy units.
Grasten is home to a herd of 250 dairy cows and 350 breeding sows. Apart from the slurry, no other feed stock is required for the AD operation.
A combined heat and power plant is included within the specification of the plant.
This represents a valuable source of electricity. Waste heat is pumped back into the college buildings.
The digestate is stored in a nearby above-ground store, from where it will be spread on adjacent arable land.
Plans are in place to have the college secure a net ‘carbon zero’ position, where energy is concerned, with the next 24 months.
The big imponderable here is the fuel that will be required to drive the college’s tractor fleet. One option will be to use the biogas generated by the AD plant. Another alternative will be to invest in new, electrically driven tractors.
The dairy unit at Grasten features a Lely A5 robotic milking system with an accompanying Vector Feeding System.
Almost half the dairy cows in Denmark are now milked robotically. The system at the college comes with a number of tweaks that have been specified to help the learning and dairy management processes at the college.
One is the inclusion of bespoke somatic cell count (SCC) software; the other is the availability of an automated feet washing system, to help reduce lameness levels within the Grasten herd.
The students are also taught to use traditional milking systems, which necessitates the manual placement of clusters on cows’ udders.
The decision to opt for the Vector Feeding System was taken for two reasons – one relates to the teaching of new technologies, the other relates to the savings it generates, relating to the overall management of the college herd.
Prior to the installation on the system, it took one man three hours each day to feed all the cattle within the dairy unit.
Feeding in this way also required 40L of diesel plus the wear and tear on machinery on a daily basis.
Now the ‘Lely kitchen’, an integral part of the feeding system, is stocked up with the required maize and grass silages on alternate days.
According to Lely, there are 15 Vector systems operating in Ireland at the present time.
They comprise a mixing and feeding robot that is both 100% electric and self-contained.
The system uses technology to create a highly mixed ration, which it then transports independently to the identified feed passages.
The Vector also senses when it is time for a new feeding round. The mixing and feeding robot measures the feed height of a specific section to determine when the ration needs to be supplemented, so there is never too much or too little feed available to the cows.
The cows at Grasten are producing 11,000L of milk per lactation. They receive a ration that delivers 23kg of dry matter (DM)/cow/day. Approximately 40% of the feed is made up of concentrates.
Students are expected to have a firm grasp of the information coming from the dairy robots and the other modern technologies operating at Grasten.
The use of automation is seen as a key means by which improved sustainability can be delivered across Danish agriculture as a whole.
Learning to use and manage farm machinery well is a key driver for many of the courses offered at the college. Students are taught the basic operating principles of each machine.
They also get ample opportunity to use the machines in the field on the college’s 240ha farm.
Agriculture and food combined, account for 24% of all Danish exports. Germany, Sweden, the UK and China are the main markets with pork, fish and dairy the main product categories leaving the country.
Approximately 60% of the available land area in Denmark is cultivated (2.8 million ha). The average farm size is 77ha. This figure is projected to increase significantly as older farmers continue to retire.
Most Danish farmers grow cereal crops – barley and wheat – 75% of which is destined for animal diets.
Land prices in Denmark are currently in the range €12,500-50,000/ha.