Seed World

A Closer Look at the Danish Seed Sector

With its temperate climate, plenty of rain, a flat landscape and fertile soils, Denmark boasts ideal conditions for agriculture. Of Denmark’s 4.3 million hectares, 61% is cultivated. Farms are large, with an average size of 70 ha. and over 20% of the farms exceeding 100 ha of land. Danish agriculture is considered to be among the most efficient and knowledge based agricultural clusters in the world. A high level of education and organisation, embodied in the Danish co-operative movement, as well as internal competition and demand from consumers and export markets are key factors to this success. European Seedwanted to know more about the seed sector and sat down with Nils Elmegaard, Secretary-General in both the Danish Seed Council and the Danish Seed Associationandwith Claus Saabye Erichsen,Team Manager at Variety Denmark.

More Than One Association

The Danish Seed Council is a private organisation with only two members: the Danish Seed Association (which is the amalgamation of Danish Seed Trade Associationand Danish Horticultural Seed Association) and the Danish Seed Growers’ Association. The Danish Seed Council is an ‘umbrella’ organisation covering grass seed, clover seed, vegetables seed (mainly spinach seed) and beet seed (mainly sugar beets). “Main activities of the members are: breeding, multiplication and trade. The secretariat is funded by a levy (0.2 % of the final settlement) paid by the seed growers and collected by the companies in accordance with a sector agreement,” Elmegaard says. The secretariat is comprised of Elmegaard with some additional help on bookkeeping. The Danish Seed Council is a member of — and the secretariat is placed in — the Danish Agricultural and Food Council, which is the major organisation for farmers and their co-ops in Denmark.

According to Elmegaard, “…the major advantage with this construction is that we have seed growers and seed companies around the same table, and we are therefore able to pursue the same targets: political, legal framework, research and development, statistical. The sector itself contains quite few people and we have many activities/meetings where issues are discussed in an informal manner.” He adds that this makes decision making easier when you realise that you have common goals. Issues concerning market shares/prices/competition are never discussed in the forum. Such issues do not belong in the Danish Seed Council (or in the Danish Seed Association for that matter).

Support to the Council Members

“I have three main tasks,” says Elmegaard. “To improve the production/marketing framework for the sector; to pursue the research track, and to gather statistics on production. I work for the sector on different issues in Denmark and internationally to find the long-lasting solutions (and sometimes the shorter ones).”


[tweetshareinline tweet=”Other grass seed producing countries were not happy in 1972 with letting Denmark be part of the grass seed market, but Denmark prevailed.” username=”EuropeanSeed”]


To ensure consensus, we are convinced that dialog is the way forward says Elmegaard. “Members are allowed to fight their own position when necessary and luckily, in most cases consensus is reached.”


The Danish Seed Council was formed in 1973 when Denmark joined the EU. The chairmanship is divided between the growers and the seed companies. “I hold the SG position in both the Danish Seed Council and the Danish Seed Association, and a colleague holds the secretarial post in the growers’ association,” says Elmegaard. “In 1972, it was actually the Minister of Agriculture that suggested to the sector to form such a forum to deal with the EU-membership. The Danish Seed Council was the prime informer to the Minister at that time on these matters. At that time, the other grass seed producing countries were not happy with the prospect of letting Denmark be part of the grass seed market due to the production volume. In the late 70s, production in EU was way above needs from the market. Denmark came out the winner in the end.”

Variety Denmark – Cereals, Rapeseed And Potatoes

In Denmark the seed sectors of cereals, oilseed rape and potatoes are joined in the Danish association: Variety Denmark. This association was founded in 1963 and has 20 members including both Danish and international plant breeders/variety owners that are represented in Denmark. Variety Denmark shares its secretariat with DAKOFO– theDanish Grain and Feed Trade Association. DAKOFO represents the entire grain and feed sector in Denmark. Erichsen indicates this gives both associations a number of advantages with the horizontal-chain-value approach on many issues. “Further to that, I also host the secretariat of Crop Innovation Denmark(CID) – a public-private-partnership promoting plant breeding research. Members include Danish plant breeders, Danish universities and the Danish Food and Agriculture Council,” says Erichsen.

The Secretary-General of Variety Denmark is Asbjørn Børsting. In addition to that, Variety Denmark has also four to five part time employees, shared with DAKOFO. The secretariat of Variety Denmark is located at the old stock exchange – build by the famous Danish king Christian the 4th– the beautiful building that’s almost 400 years old.


[tweetshareinline tweet=”Grass is a natural borne answer to many challenges such as climate change, and for that you would need access to quality grass seed.” username=”EuropeanSeed”]


Main activities of Variety Denmark include handling the interests of their members at national as well as international levels in relation to marketing and trading, export, legislation and other relevant political issues. One of the main activities in Variety Denmark is the collection of licenses on certified seed (from the seed marketing industry) as well as farm saved seed from farmers and distributing these licences to the variety owners. Variety Denmark is member of ESA and ISF – and active in several committees.

Among all the activities, the most important topics at Variety Denmark says Erichsen are:

1) To provide our members a strong platform to produce and market their seeds

2) A smooth and efficient royalty collection system (certified as well as FSS)

3) To make sure that the seed sector is timely engaged in political and legislative discussions – to set the right direction

4) To promote innovation and research within the sector

Variety Denmark is also active at national level in boards and other forums, including formal forums with our authorities. One example is the Forum for Plant Varieties and Seeds, which is the national forum for dialogue and negotiations between the industry and authorities (both international and national political agenda).

All the Danish Associations are members of the umbrella organisation Danish Association of Plant Breeders (DAPB), which is the formal member of ESA and ISF.

Danish Seed Industry

Denmark is the largest grass seed exporter in the world of temperate grasses. The surface area is approx. 80,000 hectares of grass seed production. Lolium perenneis by far the major species, with almost half of the area. Number two is Festuca rubra. Third and fourth are Poa pratensis and Festuca arundinaceae. “Denmark also holds a major position in the production and marketing of white clover. And we should not forget the spinach seed production, where Denmark covers approx. 75 percent of the world production of hybrid spinach seed,” says Elmegaard.

Erichsen adds that the largest crops in Denmark are cereals. “Usually wheat covers 600,000 ha. And spring barley covers 550,000 ha. In Denmark we have a very high use of certified seeds, our percentages are among the absolutely highest in Europe. As we have a very high use of certified seeds, the seeds used by Danish farmers is of very high quality and is produced by specialized seed producing companies. Some of these are private companies, however, the majority of the seeds is produced and sold by companies or agri-cooperatives owned by Danish farmers.”

Specialties of the Danish Seed Sector

“The main reasons for the strength and growth of the Danish seed sector are manifold. I could mention (not in order of importance): the tradition, the climate, the geographical position (day length), the organisational level, the dedicated growers, the export oriented and global/regional view by companies, the constant search for improved varieties, the common research goals, good relations with authorities and the international perspective,” says Elmegaard.

The grass seed production in Denmark is growing as is the Danish share in the European production. “This is due to many of the above-mentioned factors, in fact the total set-up of the seed sector,” adds Elmegaard.


Erichsen concurs: “I am proud to say that the production of seeds in Denmark is associated with very high quality, which gives Danish seed a strong position on both national, European and global markets. And this goes for grasses, potatoes and cereals.”

A similar high quality applies to the Danish approach to royalty collection on Farm Saved Seed. Erichsen highlights that Variety Denmark has a very tight and stringent Royalty Collection system. “We believe it to be very efficient, also in relation the already high use of certified seeds.”


According to Elmegaard, the major challenge is the ever-decreasing number of plant protection products (PPP’s). “This a major concern, as in some species we will not be able to produce the needed quality. For example, if we lose diquat, some productions will disappear not only out of Denmark but out of the EU! We are trying to face the challenge of losing PPPs and the public opinion on the matter by research-trials and by showing ways to decreased usage of PPPs”.

Erichsen adds that another major challenge is the ruling from the EU Court of Justice in July 2018 on the regulation of plant breeding techniques that use mutagenesis. “In my view, the ultimate goal would be to come to a practical and science-based regulation, and access to some of the new techniques, specifically those that do not differ from what we already do today and what occurs in nature already. The situation that we are facing today is very challenging. We are losing innovative tools. At the same time, it can cause severe trade barriers for agricultural commodities. We need to make sure that we explain all this to the general public and gain their confidence and trust. Having such rules in place means there is great potential for a high-performing, innovative and diversified solutions in plant breeding and seed sectors leading to a better and more efficient agriculture. At the same time this would strengthen Europe’s resilience to climate change and would have multiple benefits for European consumers and the environment.”

New Plant Breeding Techniques

“We do have a discussion body set up by the authorities with participants from the seed sector, NGO’s, researchers/universities and the authorities themselves to find a common position,” says Elmegaard. “Almost all the participants are in favour of allowing the breeders access to mutagenesis techniques (but not all new plant breeding techniques). This is an example of the ‘Danish Way’: sit yourself around a table, add coffee and cake and you have a forum to discuss these matters. Dialog helps quite often. But we still have some work on this issue as Europe is left on the train station after the ECJ ruling July 25th, 2018. We need solutions.”


[tweetshareinline tweet=”Major challenges for the Danish seed sector are the ever-decreasing number of plant protection products and the ECJ court ruling.” username=”EuropeanSeed”]


Erichsen agrees. “Variety Denmark, DAKOFO and CID were formally a part of the ‘discussion body’ on this topic. Our clear signal is that EU should not isolate itself from international movements. We support a global free trade, innovation, and therefore, we need the EU to solve the current situation, otherwise we (the seed industry, the society) will lose innovation power. From the plant breeding side, we know very well that the introduction of targeted genetic variation in crops can help to mitigate the effects of climate change – and promote a more sustainable and robust plant production. Even broader, making crops more resilient can help us in our fight towards achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals.” He adds “On the last EU council meeting many member states – including Denmark voiced the need for action – to solve the issues after the ECJ ruling. We are confident that the new Commission will work on this.”

International Cooperation

A number of representatives in the Danish Seed Council and Variety Denmark are engaged in many different ways, mainly within ESA, COPA-COGECA and ISF. Erichsen says that the ESA Annual Meeting (AM) is an important highlight for the European seed industry. “Business opportunities are explored, and new contacts established.” In addition, Variety Denmark and DAKOFO are also active in COCERAL (the agricultural commodity trade association) and FEFAC (the EU feed association), providing a value chain approach on discussions on various issues. “Our international engagement is an important work to promote the seed, grain and feed sector,” Erichsen adds.

On the political scene, the AM provides an opportunity for the gathered European seed sector to discuss political and regulatory issues, as well as the relation to greater societal challenges and opportunities, he adds. Elmegaard says he tries always to be part of the ESA AM to follow discussions and gather information and make relations to other seed people. “The seed companies are there for trading seed and create contacts. It is important to meet face to face once in a while as it makes it easier to do further contacts in the electronic way.”

Policy Makers

Elmegaard confirms that the Danish Seed Council is using all possible and necessary contacts and has the advantage of being a member of the Danish Agricultural and Food Council (which is much larger and with good contacts). We set up meeting activities and send letters to Ministries whenever issues need to be debated or informed about.

Erichsen concurs on the importance of good relations with policy makers. “Variety Denmark has a close relationship to the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture, and the agencies within. Hence, whenever needed we do reach out via letters or meetings.”

Evolution of European Seed Industry

The base of the evolvement of European seed industry is the legal framework, i.e. the Seed Marketing Directive. “I believe that we have a better future for the grass seed industry as quite some of the climatic challenges can be met by grass growing & proteins etc. Grass is a natural borne answer to many challenges, and for that you would need access to quality grass seed. But we need a political framework with access to the newest breeding methods and the necessary plant protection products etc.,” says Elmegaard


Where on the web:

Danish Seed Council:

Variety Denmark: