Agriculture in Germany – towards organic farming ? Germany’s climate is moderate and rather homogenous. During summer months the long term average temperature across the country is 17°C and during winter months 1°C. While most regions in Germany receive between 700 and 800 mm rain per year, precipitation in the Eastern part is significantly lower having only 400-600 mm.
The agricultural season in Germany is from March to October, which means that most of the crops grown in the fields are harvested in October. A substantial amount of Germany’s land is covered with grassland and arable land. More than 12 million ha of fertile land are available for arable production. Of Germany's 358,000 square kilometers (138,000 square miles), 30% is used for forestry. The number of agricultural businesses in Germany has dwindled significantly since the 1970s. If there were around 904,700 businesses in 1975, in 2020 there were 263,500. Employee numbers have been decreasing in recent years, with 582,000 recorded in 2020, compared to 661,000 ten years ago. Nine out of ten farms are managed by the proprietors themselves. Most of the land is leased (around 59 percent in 2016). The image of farmers working with their families to manage their farms does, therefore, correspond to the actual situation in almost 90 percent of farms. Cooperatives and private limited companies play a subordinate role in terms of absolute figures; they do, however, carry economic weight. The ten percent of farms run as partnerships, limited liability companies, cooperatives and private limited companies together work over a third of Germany’s farmland. This percentage is far higher in the new Laender.
Almost half of all farmers still earn their living mainly from farming. More than 50 percent of the individual farms – 52 percent in 2016 – are operated part-time, this means that the farm operators earned at least half of their income from activities other than farming. Full-time farmers now often try to generate an additional income from sources other than their main business of crop farming and livestock production: they market their own produce, such as vegetables, cheese and sausages, in farm shops, offer holidays on their farms, and generate renewable energy in their own biogas plants.
Agriculture accounted for less than 3% of total water abstractions in 2016 (OECD, 2020b). Agricultural irrigation in Germany accounted for 1.3% of total water abstractions in 2016 (Federal Statistical Office, 2020). The water used in Germany for irrigation is predominantly (around 87%) taken from groundwater.
Agricultural products vary from region to region. In the flat terrain of northern Germany and especially in the eastern portions, cereals and sugar beets are grown. Elsewhere, with the terrain more hilly and even mountainous, farmers produce vegetables, milk, pork, or beef. Almost all large cities are surrounded by fruit orchards and vegetable farms. Most river valleys in southern and western Germany, especially along the Rhine and the Main, have vineyards. Beer is produced mainly, but not exclusively, in Bavaria. Wine is produced mainly, but not exclusively, in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Germany’s agriculture mainly produces pigs, milk, cereals and root crops. Germany‘s farming sector is one of the four largest producers in the European Union. Germany is the largest pork producer, the largest milk producer, and the second largest beef & veal producer in the EU. Its top five commodities are milk, sugar, wheat, potatoes and barley. In 2020, German agricultural production value was around 56.3 billion euros.
German agriculture generates around 25% of its sales revenue from exports, which include high value-added specialty products, with meat and meat products ranking first, followed by dairy, sweet products and bakery goods.
In the case of milk and meat, Germany export more than it is imported – these exports are predominantly to other EU countries. With regard to fruit and vegetables, imports are higher than exports. Germany is the third largest importer of agricultural goods in the world – and also the third largest agricultural exporter. German agriculture exports about one third of its total production. Overall, though, Germany is a net importer. In agriculture, the trend to convert to organic farming continues. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that just under 26,100 agricultural holdings were managed under organic farming rules in 2020, which was an increase of 58% compared with 2010 (16,500 organic farms). In the same period, the percentage of organic farms as a proportion of all agricultural holdings in Germany rose from 6% to 10%. More than half of all organic holdings are located in Bayern (38%) and Baden-Württemberg (17%). According to calculations by the von Thunen Institute, organic test farms earned, on average, profits plus labour costs per man-work unit (MWU) of € 37,444 in the 2019/20 marketing year. Thus, their income situation has not changed significantlycompared with the previous year. Comparable conventional farms earned, on average, in the 2019/20 marketing year, profits plus labour costs per MWU of € 28,139 . The average income of the organic test farms thus exceeded the income of the conventional reference farms by € 9,305 or 33 %.
Despite the increasing number of farms targeting organic production, it is not possible to quickly reduce the negative effects of extensive farming. Agricultural landscapes in Germany have lost much of their diversity being dominated by crops such as maize and rapeseed today. This trend has also had an impact on the biodiversity of animals and wild plants and the consequences of excessive pesticide and fertiliser use are beginning to show as bees are dying and excess nitrate concentrations are threatening groundwater and drinking water. Germany is among the top producers of grain in the EU with 45.6 million tonnes of harvested production in 2017. Most of Germany’s cereal production is made up by wheat and spelt (54%), followed by barley (24%), maize and corn-cob-mix (10%).
Germany is the European Union’s second-largest wheat producer after France and for many years the EU’s largest producer of rapeseed, Europe’s main oilseed for edible oil and biodiesel production. In 2018, wheat production for Germany was 20.2 million tonnes. Germany is a net exporter of wheat and barley, which it produces in ample quantitates, but it is a net importer of maize and corn, oats, rice, buckwheat, rye, and sorghum. Cereal product imports in Germany are mostly made up of bakery products, such as bread, pastry, cakes, biscuits, as well as pasta, and other preparations of flour, groats, and starch or malt extract. Most of the imports in Germany originate from the EU countries. Germany is among the largest consumers of grain in the EU. Most of Germany’s consumption can be attributed to grain consumption as animal feed – approximately 60%, followed by food (18%), energy source ( 9%), industry (8%) and seed (2%). Consumption of bread remains particularly high, with the most popular products being sliced bread and toast, as well as artisanal bread. Most of the bread consumption can be attributed to private-label products. In 2018, Germany produced 26.1 million tons of sugar beet (4th largest producer in the world), which serves to produce sugar and ethanol; 20.2 million tons of wheat (10th largest producer in the world); 9.5 million tons of barley (3rd largest producer in the world, only behind Russia and France), 8.9 million tons of potato (7th largest producer in the world); 3.6 million tons of rapeseed (6th largest producer in the world); 2.2 million tons of rye (largest producer in the world); 1.9 million tons of triticale (2nd largest producer in the world); 1.4 million tons of grape (16th largest producer in the world); 1.2 million tons of apple (12th largest producer in the world). In addition, this year, the country also produced 3.3 million tons of maize and smaller yields of other agricultural products, such as cabbage (604 thousand tons), carrot (625 thousand tons), oats (577 thousand tons), onion (409 thousand tons). In the first half of 2021, 28.3 million pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and horses were slaughtered in commercial slaughterhouses in Germany, according to provisional results. The enterprises produced just under 3.8 million tonnes of meat from the slaughtered animals, including poultry. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that meat production decreased by roughly 1.7%, or 64,500 tonnes, on the first half of 2020. Around 26 million pigs for producing meat are kept in Germany. The stock of pigs is mainly concentrated in the North West of Germany. With around 30 per cent of the stock of pigs, Lower Saxony is the most important production location in Germany, closely followed by North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria.
In 2020, almost 53 million pigs were slaughtered in Germany to produce 5.1 million tonnes of pork. Germany, therefore, is the largest pork producer in Europe. Internationally, Germany is third behind China and the USA. Germany exports more than 2.7 million tonnes of pork to over 100 countries, thereby meeting much of the growing demand for high-quality meat. In 2020 in Germany, 11 million cows were kept in 133,000 businesses. This makes Germany on the biggest producer in Europe. In 2020, a total of 1.1 million tonnes of beef were produced, of which 316,000 tonnes were exported to countries all around the world. Germany is home to over forty breeds of cattle. The diverse cattle breeds reflect the regional climatic and food differences between the Bavarian Alps in the South to the North and Baltic Seas. Germany has cow breeds that are perfect for producing meat or milk, or both. Fleckvieh and Braunvieh are the main breeds in the south of Germany, whilst in the north, German Holsteins predominate. The cattle stock in Germany—as in farming generally—is becoming better suited to larger businesses. Over sixty per cent of cows are now kept in stocks of cattle with more than 100 animal In Germany the poultry industry currently consists of around 34 million laying hens, 60 million broilers and 11 million turkeys for meat production. Only crossbreds are of relevance for commercial egg and poultry meat production.
Germany is the world's largest importer of wine by volume and third largest by value. In 2018, German wine imports were valued at more than USD 3.1 billion. Italy, France and Spain are the leading suppliers of wine to Germany with a combined import market share of 78%. U.S. wines, together with other “new-world” wines, have developed an increasingly good reputation for quality in the German market. In 2018, the value of Germany's imports of U.S. wines totaled USD 45 million.
Germany is one of the leading countries for pet ownership in the world. Germans are willing to pay a premium to properly feed their pets, and interest in specialty health pet food products is growing rapidly.
Some three-tenths of Germany’s total land area is covered with forest. In the Central German Uplands and the Alps, forests are particularly plentiful, but they are notably absent from the best agricultural land, such as the loess areas of the North German Plain. The western part of the North German Plain also has little forest cover, but there are substantial wooded stretches farther east. Conifers predominate in the forest area; spruce now accounts for much of the plantings because of its rapid growth and suitability for building purposes and for the production of paper and chipboard. Approx. 73 % of German forests nowadays consist of mixed stands. Spruce accounts for the largest share among the tree species (28 %), followed by pine (23 %), beech trees (15 %) and oak trees (10 %). 48% of the 11.4 million hectares of forest in Germany are private forests. 29% of forests are owned by Countries, 19% owned by corporations and 4% owned by the state. There are strong regional differences. The Share of the private forest ranges from 24% in Hesse to 67% in North Rhine-Westphalia. Private forest often predominates in the sparsely populated rural areas. The State Forest-share is between 17% in North Rhine-Westphalia and 50% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The forest and timber industry, including processing and paper as well as printing and publishing, accounts for nearly 1,3 million jobs with an annual turnover of about 170 billion. Small- and medium-sized forest-based enterprises play a major role in rural employment structures. Domestic production covers about half of the demand for wood from temperate forests. Fishing in Germany is based on the exclusive economic zone to 200 miles (320 km) offshore. There are well over 100 fishing ports on the North Sea and Baltic coasts. Fishing for shrimp and mussels is important on the mud flats fringing the North Sea. In 2018, Germany produced 0.3 million tonnes of fish (including molluscs and crustaceans), with a value of USD 467.1 million. 29% of this value came from aquaculture and 71% from fisheries (that is, the capture of wild resources). In 2018 Employment in the seafood sector, including processing, accounted for 2424 jobs. n 2018, the fleet consisted of 1335 powered vessels, down by 27% since 2008. Small-scale vessels, those below 12 meters in length, accounted for 78.9% of the total number of vessel. The total gross tonnage of the German fleet in 2018 was 58804 tonnes, down by 15% since 2008. Small-scale vessels accounted for 4.7% of the total gross tonnage. Figure 3: Employment by sub-sector Thousand jobs 2008 2018 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 Capture fisheries Aquaculture Figure 4: Fleet size by fleet segment Number of vessels Gross tonnage (gt) 2008 2018 2008 2018 0 20,000 40,000 60,000 0 500 1,000 1,500 2,000 About 780 000 ha of the country is covered by rivers, lakes and ponds, most of which are utilized for fisheries. Lake and river fisheries generate a substantial amount of fish caught by 1.5 million recreational fishers. Germany aquaculture industry focuses mainly on mussel growing and on carp and trout farming.