Markus Eerola comes from a long line of farmers: he represents already the 8th farmer generation in his family. Eerola is managing the Knehtilä Farm which has its roots in the 18th century. Now Eerola has transformed the family farm into a modern and ecological enterprise. Nowadays the Knehtilä Farm, located in Hyvinkää, is famous for its organic farming and smart cleantech solutions.
“The basis of our farming lies in precision agriculture methods which have intrigued me for more than 15 years. Already before I started farming as a profession I did precision farming experiments here on our family farm”, Eerola says.
In precision farming the crop is carefully measured. This way the farmer is able to fix the farming conditions precisely. He can for example modify the structure of the soil in certain places. These methods brought the crop farm, which grows for example wheat, oat and barley, a distinguished award.
“We were chosen by WWF as the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year in 2015. The jury was particularly impressed about the way we had improved the structure of our soil”, Eerola tells proudly.
Other merits of the farm include innovative techniques that retain the soil’s nutrients accordingly and technologies used in analysing the soil.
Eerola stands in front of a silo that is used for storing and drying grain
Academic projects fascinate the farmer
Eerola has a rather unusual academic background for a farmer. He has studied at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. As a farmer he hasn’t abandoned the academic circles – in fact, he has participated in various research projects together with his wife Minna Sakki-Eerola who also takes care of the Knehtilä Farm.
One of Eerola’s farm’s most significant projects was the Palopuro Agroecological Symbiosis funded by the Finland’s Ministry of Enviroment’s RAKI-programme. The project was run by the University of Helsinki. Other partners included the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (Luke) alongside various farms and companies. The project is a perfect example of smart technologies coming together.
The symbiosis is a system that represents the circular economy as its goal is to provide a sustainable way to produce food and energy. All the functions of the symbiosis, including for example a biogas plant, a farm and a bakery, gain something from each other. For instance the biogas plant could use the organic grass the Knehtilä Farm grows. In return, the farm could get organic fertiliser from the biogas plant. The plant could also provide energy to heat the bakery and other buildings attached to the farm complex. Mainly the plant would get its revenue from selling the biogas as fuel for cars.
“The Palopuro symbiosis is a model that could be copied and scaled elsewhere. The idea has been introduced in various events, including the UN Climate Conference in Marrakech in 2016”, Eerola says.
At the moment the symbiosis is working only partially at the Knehtilä Farm. Soon the biogas plant will start functioning.
“I am waiting eagerly to get the fertiliser. That will be my benefit and make our farm even more environmentally friendly”, Eerola comments.
The symbiosis is still looking for more partners to function properly.
“We are still going through the pieces that would complete the symbiosis. We would like to have the whole food chain together in the same area. At the moment we are looking for bakeries, cheese factories and other food companies to join us.”
A chalkboard illustrates the state of different fields at the Knehtilä farm: right now half of them are empty. In organic farming fields are typically kept empty for periods of time so that the nutrients circulate better
Environmental reasons should guide the consumer
Eerola has always been interested in environmental issues. Now he hopes to make the interest an asset for the Knehtilä Farm.
“We use organic fertiliser that doesn’t harm the environment. We hope that our ways of production could add value to the final product. It would be great if the consumer was able to choose an environmentally friendly product and actually made that choice”, Eerola tells.