Heikki Aro, RD Manager, is working in strategic research in primary production together with HKScan's contract farmers and other partners.
What are your job responsibilities?
I work on strategic research in primary production. This includes, for example, assessing the environmental impact of primary production. Our Agrofood Ecosystem® team works closely together with HKScan’s contract farmers to find best practices for a more environmentally friendly way of producing meat. This work supports the targets of HKScan’s responsibility programme. In particular, our efforts focus on the Zero Carbon climate plan.
Speaking of HKScan's Zero Carbon work, is there anything new and interesting going on?
Primary production accounts for a large part of the carbon footprint of a meat product, up to 80% of the carbon footprint of the finished product. So, it is natural to develop measures that reduce the part of primary production. Together with our pilot farms in Finland and Sweden, we are looking at new practices.
The greatest factor affecting the carbon footprint is the feed eaten by animals, followed by manure and, obviously in the case of cattle, rumination.
Feed is produced in fields, so monitoring the emissions from field farming, for example through carbon flux measurements, is an important part of the development work. Optimising the use of nutrients, especially nitrogen, required by the plant, will increase yields, which in turn has a positive impact on the carbon footprint. Small actions in the field can make a big difference as HKScan’s volumes are in the hundreds of millions of kilos of meat each year.
Future meat production is part of the solution to climate change. We have a number of ways to reduce the impacts of primary production and to scale them up for wider use.
What are the challenges in achieving climate targets?
Challenges come from many directions. The profitability of primary production should always go hand in hand with climate and other environmental measures. This requires research, broad cooperation across the sector as well as political consensus. At the micro and macro level, the lack of harmonised methods for calculating the environmental impact of foods, for example, makes it difficult to compare different product categories. Carbon footprint calculation is a good example in this respect.
What makes you excited at work?
I get motivated when I can be involved in the development of practical work. The issues are sometimes really complicated and I enjoy solving them. It's also a job where you can learn new things all the time.
A long career in both research and commercialisation of innovations often makes you wonder whether a result is just a result, or whether it has commercial potential. This could perhaps be described by the informal slogan of our own team “moving boldly ahead”.
HKScan is on a journey to become a versatile food company. What’s your favourite food?
I eat basically anything. I enjoy a good salad as much as a tasty burger, but maybe pulled pork with mashed potatoes goes to the top of the list of my favourite dishes.
What do you do in your spare time?
I live on a farm where we raise beef cattle. So “spare time” means, at least in part, working on the farm. I follow sports, especially athletics and rallies. Our log house is over 200 years old, so it takes as much time as you are prepared to spend. Repairing the big stove is the latest of these leisure chores.