A partnership that keeps on growing

Absolut’s One source philosophy means that everything used to manufacture our world renown spirit comes from the nearby surroundings of our hometown Åhus, in Southern Sweden. One key ingredient in Absolut Vodka is the unique winter wheat that’s grown and harvested at the Råbelöf estate, some 20 kilometers north of Åhus.

The collaboration between the distillery and the farm has been ongoing since the late 70’s. We had a chat with Erik Bæksted, CEO at Råbelöf estate, to get his view on the longstanding partnership between Absolut and Råbelöf.

How long have you been working together with The Absolut Company?

We have a very long relationship. I think we started our collaboration as early as 1979. And our partnership has evolved a lot over the years. Today, I think we’re the single largest supplier of winter wheat, where we account for about 7-8 percent of the total amount of wheat used in production, i.e. about 8,000 tons. The trust for each other is immense and we’re constantly talking about how to collaboratively improve our methods of working and how to help each other with best practice to reach our common goals.

What are the challenges of growing wheat in Sweden?

Sweden is very well suited for growing wheat, so we are relatively well off, I would say. Skåne’s climate is optimal for cultivating wheat and we have some of the best harvests in the world – together with Denmark, England, France and The Netherlands. By comparison, the United States only generates half the amount as us per harvest, and in Australia that figure is a third. Then of course the weather is always a challenge, but random weather conditions are part of being a farmer and it is a prerequisite for growing wheat in Sweden. The same applies to some extent to the various political challenges. Agriculture is a complex business that’s closely governed by the EU. And that’s easy to understand – our products aren’t just commodities, it’s a necessity. We’re literally putting food on people’s tables.

The trust for each other is immense and we’re constantly talking about how to collaboratively improve our methods of working and how to help each other with best practice to reach our common goals

There is often talk about the value of organic farming, but you don’t label Råbelöf as an eco-farm. Why not?

Yes, we are perhaps a bit unconventional in our way of acting. But there is a lot to think and say about ecology and to grow organically. In my opinion, it is a way of farming that was done 80 years ago. And few businesses today are run in the same way as they were in the 40’s. Over the years, the progress has been made that allows us to be more efficient and produce more and get a product that is more consistent in quality from harvest to harvest. Today we can control a lot of different factors that weren’t possible to monitor before. The analogy is much like if you run a banking business – working organically is like going back to using a bank book. One can also add further complexity to the issue: it is a fact that the world suffers from food shortages and organic farming produces only half as much as we do, which – if everyone completely switched to organic farming – would inevitably lead to starvation. Today we get consistent harvests and avoid damages to the crops. So, I see no real intrinsic value in starting to grow organically. The way we live off the land is much more sustainable in the long run, if you ask me.

How are you affected by climate change?

So far, I don’t think that we’ve been affected to any greater extent – meaning that we haven’t had to adapt our farming methods. So, this is not a big problem for us – yet. If you look historically, wheat cultivation runs in 30-year cycles. Sometimes it’s warmer and sometimes it’s colder. Right now, I would say that we are in the midst of a warm period – but these are not so extreme deviations that we need to think about changing our cultivation concept. However, we are of course always looking into new ways of farming sustainable. We have, as an example, switched to biofuel in all our tractors. This has reduced our fuel consumption by several percent. Our manure is produced in such a way that minimal carbon dioxide is emitted.

The Absolut Company has introduced a new model for its suppliers to relate to. New criteria to relate to are climate, soil health and biodiversity. How do you work with this?

I’d say we already meet most of the criteria, so for us it will not impose any major changes to our ways of working. With that said, I have a hard time seeing that we will drive around with electric tractors in the fields. Globally, 80 percent of emissions come from fossil fuels and, as I mentioned, we have already switched to biofuel, which I think is good. When it comes to our work with soil health, we balance our consumption of natural fertilizers and commercial fertilizers. We whitewash the soil to maintain the correct pH value. The earth is what we live off, so we make sure to continuously take care of it so that it can deliver the same yield year after year.