Say goodbye to ecology – for the sake of the climate 

Klaus Aage Bengtson success­fully runs a large organic farm in North Jutland. But by 2025, his switch to conven­tional farming will be complete. So why is this producer returning to inor­ganic ways?

Many organic farmers look over the fence and see their conven­tional neigh­bours’ fields yielding better than their own – it’s to be expected. As is the fact that those neigh­bours will be spending twice as much in fuel. But what if you start to look at the bigger picture in terms of our failure to miti­gate climate change, and the need to feed a growing popu­la­tion?

That’s what Klaus Aage Bengtson did, and his reac­tion was to return to conven­tional produc­tion. Running an organic arable farm in Hals just north of Aalborg in Denmark, his finan­cial margins have been better than bench­marked organic growers since 2019, and he does not hide the fact that his returns are good. So, switching to conven­tional oper­a­tion certainly seems illog­ical. 

And a state­ment that conven­tional farming is more climate-friendly than organic farming goes against the grain of public percep­tion and polit­ical atti­tudes – not only in Denmark, but in large parts of Europe. Never­the­less, Klaus believes that he is right based on his own farm expe­ri­ences; he grows some 800ha organ­i­cally and another 400ha conven­tion­ally. 

The planned CO2 tax will cost Klaus DKK 750,000 (£86,039). So, every tonne of CO2 he saves will benefit both the bottom line and the climate.

“I do not dispute that organic farming can offer a climate advan­tage in some parts of the world, but it is not self-evident in northern Europe,” he says. “In our part of Europe, we are devel­oping far more potent oppor­tu­ni­ties to curb climate change than organic farming can provide. We have a duty to take advan­tage of these devel­op­ments so that progress does not come to a stand­still.”

He hesi­tates a little and adds: “In addi­tion, we have some­thing near the world’s best climate for agri­cul­tural crops. If the goal of stop­ping hunger in 2030 (one of the UN’s sustain­able devel­op­ment goals) must be met, we cannot afford to reduce food produc­tion. I intend to take part in the green tran­si­tion, and I can do that best as a conven­tional farmer,” he empha­sizes. 

Change the busi­ness – for the sake of profit

So why did he convert to orig­i­nally? The answer is clear: “To make money. I ran a drainage company next to a small farm, but the finan­cial crisis of 2008 put an end to the company’s profits. So, in 2010 I became a full-time farmer and chose organic farming because there was money in it.” 

About Elsnab Farm


of arable land, partly organic and partly conven­tional


In 2019, a smooth succes­sion began between Klaus Aage Bengtson and his son Svend Olav Bengtson. Each currently owns 50%.


The fattening pig barns has 4,200 places and are rented on 10-year agree­ments.

As to whether he will make more money in conven­tional produc­tion, Klaus esti­mates the result will prob­ably be the same. “With the planned CO2 tax, I will now lose DKK 750,000 (£86,039) annu­ally. So, each ton of CO2 alone that I save will have a posi­tive effect on the bottom line.”

Klaus expects to generate higher yields from conven­tional produc­tion, while input costs will vary widely: According to a report showing the envi­ron­mental, social and manage­ment condi­tions of the farm, fuel consump­tion could be halved when ceasing organic farming– from 150 litres/ha of diesel to 75 litres/ha. This is because field­work like ploughing and cultivation, which is essen­tial for organic produc­tion, can be signif­i­cantly reduced in a conven­tional system.

On the other hand, increased use of other inputs, like pesti­cides, fertiliser and crop protec­tion prod­ucts, could boost costs, while the machinery fleet will have to be expanded to include fertiliser spreaders and sprayers. Conversely, the farm is run as a 100% preci­sion unit, which will help to maximise input effi­cien­cies.

According to an ESG report, Klaus can use only 75 litres/ha of fuel as a conven­tional farmer, as opposed to 150 litres/ha as an organic one.

When it came to the last harvest, comparing conven­tional and organic yields confirmed that switching would be the right choice. “My neigh­bour and I sowed winter rye the same day,” says Klaus. “The soil type is the same, but he got a yield of 9t/ha, where I had to settle for 3t/ha.” 

Condi­tions for organic farmers

While Klaus attrib­utes his deci­sion to tack­ling climate change and sustain­able food produc­tion, he admits that it is more diffi­cult to be an organic farmer today than before.

In partic­ular, restric­tions on the use of conven­tional fertiliser can hobble them, because the amount of organic fertiliser is limited. Klaus has searched “all kinds of alter­na­tives”, including with the munic­i­pal­i­ties, but it cannot cover his needs. At the same time, it is becoming more diffi­cult to sell organic prod­ucts, and earn­ings are contin­uing to fall, as confirmed by Statis­tics Denmark. Combined, all of these factors contribute to weak­ening organic farming.

I do not dispute that organic farming can be an advan­tage in some parts of the world, but it is not self-evident in northern Europe.

Klaus Aage Bengtson

“But my primary aim in moving into the green tran­si­tion is consid­er­a­tion for the climate and biodi­ver­sity.” For this purpose, he has so far planted 6ha of forest on the prop­erty and built three mini-wetlands, while some areas are grazed by horses. A further boost to biodi­ver­sity could be to estab­lish pasture or other dry areas, he points out.

New tech­nology

Klaus is, by his own admis­sion, a man who keeps to tried and tested solu­tions. Invest­ment in new tech­nology is welcome – once it has been inves­ti­gated and tested. But he closely follows what the future will bring. And the future is on his doorstep. A large Power-2-X plant is under construc­tion at Aalborg, which will produce avia­tion fuel using straw, and the farm has lots of straw.

Simul­ta­neous sowing on one soil type produced an organic 3t/ha while Klaus’s conven­tional neigh­bour got 9t/ha.

“As a conven­tional farmer, I can best take part in the green tran­si­tion”, says Klaus.

He reckons the cycle starts and ends with the farmer. His idea is to supply food to the popu­la­tion and biomass from animals and fields to regional biogas plants. At the other end of the process, he would receive fertiliser and bio-coal, which retain water and nutri­tion and bind CO2 in the soil for 500-1000 years.

Between the start and end points, biomass, together with solar and wind energy, can be converted into consumer elec­tricity plus Power-2-X. Power-2-X is processed into hydrogen and again into methanol fuel (for the trans­port sector) and ammonia (for fertilisers). The so-called pyrol­ysis process sepa­rates biogen gas and oil, as well as bio-coal.

In order for this circular system to work out, Klaus proposes a substan­tial tax on oil, gas, and coal. Firstly, the 25% food VAT should be converted to a differ­en­ti­ated CO2 tax, so that food which emits a lot of CO2 will receive the highest tax – and vice versa. “This will still give the trea­sury revenue, but food will not be more expen­sive for consumers.”


It is impor­tant to stress that the organic versus conven­tional agri­cul­ture debate is very intense in Denmark. Many reports consider one or other type of oper­a­tion to be best for the climate and envi­ron­ment. This is not because of researchers’ precon­cep­tions, but because of a lack of data and the fact that it can be inter­preted in different ways.

For example, Aarhus Univer­sity states in a report (March 2022) that it is currently not possible to sepa­rate green­house gas emis­sions between organic and conven­tional produc­tion.

The same report states that more grass in conven­tional farming will lead to an increase in the soil’s carbon content, while the lower yields of organic farming contribute less to the soil’s carbon pool.

A report commis­sioned by the Danish Parlia­ment in 2016 states that the 30% average increase in biodi­ver­sity in organic fields is quite robust, but covers a wide vari­a­tion, “and the posi­tive effect depends espe­cially on the land­scape in which organic and conven­tional farms are located.”

In the same year, Organic Denmark wrote in ‘Myths and Facts’ that under Scan­di­na­vian condi­tions, organic yields are typi­cally 0-50% below conven­tional ones –depending on the type of produc­tion.

Finally, in 2020, three researchers from Denmark, Sweden and France put an end to the applied life cycle assess­ment (LCA) because the method lacks some impor­tant factors, and there­fore “may lead to incor­rect conclu­sions about organic and conven­tional agri­cul­ture.”

Despite the disagree­ment, however, there is some agree­ment that the two types of farming have begun to converge, as conven­tional farms have become greener, while organic farmers are aware that the high amount of tillage can have a nega­tive effect on the soil struc­ture.