Isolated rural ag business in Iceland
That comment is exactly what is said by people of the U.S. and especially farmers and ranchers when the word sustainable is included in some official U.S. policy or company standards—“whatever that really means.”
As for connectors to Europe, which could use Iceland’s low-cost electricity, Tryggvason said Iceland could produce five times its own market needs. Although not mentioned by Tryggvason, it is a contention by many that Iceland should encourage investment by industries with high-use energy needs to locate in the country, rather than exporting the energy. Which one is sustainably beneficial to the people of Iceland?
The afternoon visits began with a tour of a fish hatchery/farm owned by Samherji HF, which has three big fish farms in Iceland and is a major fish producer in Scandanavia. The operation visited takes advantage of being in a geothermal lava field for its heated water and electricity to raise Arctic charr. These fish in the wild live in sea water only about three months out of the year and the rest of their reproduction cycle in fresh river water.
The charr produced in Iceland is exported with 40 percent to Europe and 60 percent to the United States. “It is the most common fish in Iceland,” said Teitur Amlaugsson, the hatchery manager.
A connection with university fishery operations is the source of the eggs for the fish hatchery, which originally were native stock from Iceland rivers. The charr take 24 months to develop from eggs to marketable fish—12 months in the hatchery and 12 months in open-air tanks. The fish farm grows four hatchings of charr per year.
The next stop was Orf Genetics. One of the founders, Einar Mätylä, Ph.D., explained the concept of protein production using plants, and in the case of Orf Genetics, 45 different proteins from growing genetically modified barley.
A 2,000 square meter greenhouse was in an isolated portion of the lava field near a geothermal electric plant. The greenhouse is hot water heated and lit with geothermal generated electricity. Seedlings are planted in pots at one end of the greenhouse and automatically transferred from one end to the other during a 2 ½ to three-month period with harvest of the seed heads by hand. The company has an additional 4,000 square meters of greenhouse operations on the island to meet current demand, and they are looking to expand.
Besides media for laboratory research, including human cancer, protein products from Orf Genetics are being marketed in skin care products.
Mäntylä explained how hard it was to gain funding for such a company in the beginning, but the company has increased 20 times its startup position. “But we are here and the banks aren’t,” he said in reference to the collapse of the banking industry in Iceland in 2008. He said, “We deliver with meager means.”