Sweet potatoes are gaining popularity in Norway. Norwegians eat, on average, about a kg of these a year. Sweet potatoes grow best in warm climates. That is why they, up to now, have not been cultivated in Norway.
That changed in 2015 and 2016. The Bjertnæs & Hoel AS cultivation company received a Grofondet sponsorship. This farm is on the west of the Oslofjord inlet. It began a project to see if sweet potatoes would grow in Norway.
Grofondet, which means 'growth fund' consists of NOK 100 million. It was set up by the Norwegian agricultural cooperative, Gartnerhallen SA, Bama Property AS, and Norgesgruppen ASA, a Norwegian grocery wholesaling group. Every year, NOK 10 million is used to finance projects.
First locally-grown produce
The Bjertnæs & Hoel's project aimed to see if it would be possible to cultivate sweet potatoes in Norway. Now, in 2020, the first Bjertnæs & Hoel sweet potatoes are in store shelves. That is after five years of testing. Grower, Leif Thore Bjertnæs says, "Growing sweet potatoes was far more difficult than I thought."
China cultivates the most sweet potatoes, while Europe mostly imports them from America. In Europe, these are only grown, commercially, in Southern Spain and Portugal.
Farmer visited overseas farms
Bjertnæs has been to countries like Israel to learn about sweet potato cultivation. "There, I spoke to sweet potato growers who were happy to share their knowledge. They spoke of stringent hygiene for the plants and good crops. It was fascinating to hear what they had to say." To gain more knowledge, he also went to the Netherlands, the US, and Spain.
Selling in areas around Oslofjord
The locally-grown sweet potatoes are already being sold in supermarkets in the areas around Oslofjord. More regions are to be added as soon as possible, but that might take a while. Bjertnæs says it can take up to three years before large volumes can be cultivated and harvested.
Ola Hedstein, the Norwegian Agricultural Cooperative is impressed, saying, "We succeeded in growing fruit and vegetables in Norway's challenging climate. This is a result of the farmers' perseverance and their willingness to try everything, even at great risk."
"Research, know-how, and technological developments contributed to making this possible. But, the growers' will and determination to actually try to do it, is almost even more important."