Better farming - better health

By: Asle Skredderberget

Can fertilizers improve the health of an entire nation, you may wonder? In Finland it was done by improving the soil with a crucial micro nutrient: Selenium.

Finland is a region known for its low level of selenium in the soil. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), selenium is important to protect tissues against oxidative stress and to maintain the body’s defense systems against infection. Severe deficiency can result in general fatigue, hypothyroidism, and Keshan disease – even leading to a specific condition where a weakening of the heart impacts general health.

All Yara fertilizer sold in Finland is supplemented with selenium to compensate for the lack of selenium in the soil, thereby improving animal and human health.

“Fertilizer is an excellent vehicle for bringing selenium to the entire population,” says Iris Erlund, a researcher at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland.


People walking on a busy train station in Finland

Plants are the main dietary source of selenium, but the selenium content of food depends on the level of selenium in the soil where plants are grown or animals are raised. By supplementing Yara fertilizers with sodium selenate, plants can convert the inorganic selenium into organic forms, which are more efficiently utilized by humans and animals. 

For example: Applying selenium in grassland fertilizer increases the selenium uptake by the grass and therefore increase the selenium supply to the animals and humans via meat and dairy products. Fortification of fertilizers is therefore crucial to improve the daily diet in Finland and preserving animal and human health.

Infographic on Selenium by Yara


“Selenium is a fantastic example of what we can do by adding minerals into the food chain an how we can impact the human health by providing the right nutrients to people,” says Jari Pentinmäki, Yara Head of Marketing Nordic Region.

Yara is now applying the knowledge gained in Finland in other places in the world with low selenium soils, like for example the UK and Ireland.