From small-scale and locally grown to a global trade: A century of growth and transformation of Swedish horticulture
This essay investigates the long-term development of Swedish horticulture from the industrial revolution to the 1970s. It calls for future research in the history of horticulture and provides a supportive analytical framework for this. With reference to international research, it argues that the nutritional transition was shaped by consumer preferences and by demand and supply capacity.
The breakthrough for the Swedish horticultural industry in the late 19th century can be explained by an increased demand capacity caused by rising incomes and new consumption patterns. The shortcomings of domestic supply capacity soon became evident as imports increased rapidly from around 1900. Global competition has remained tough and has shaped domestic production ever since. The World Wars changed competition in favour of domestic producers, who were still unable to keep up with demand, however. The interwar period brought increased state regulations of agriculture, but horticultural production remained unregulated. The rapid expansion of global trade after the Second World War brought back intense competition, but also a successful transformation and improved efficiency supported by state aid. The recession and rising energy prices caused by the oil crises of the 1970s hit Swedish producers hard, especially greenhouse production. However, it also brought a new wave of improved efficiency of, for instance, energy and surface use. New innovations spread worldwide. Increased efficiency also meant that visual appearance and sturdiness took precedence over taste and scent in production. Negative reports concerning consequences of using pesticides appeared already in the late 1960s. But the integration of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels into rationalized production systems made change difficult.
Since the industrial revolution Swedish horticulture has been unable to satisfy an ever-growing demand. With the exception of disruptions caused by the World Wars, growing imports have put pressure on Swedish producers who have responded with innovations and improved efficiency. However, part of the explanation why Swedish producers have persevered despite global competition lies in consumer preferences. Consumers have continued to favour domestic production.