How does your country support your farmers

Farmers in GermanyThe death of the courtyards

"We have two varieties here, the Jelly, a yellow-skinned and the Rosara, with a red peel. And so that the farmer gardeners can easily distinguish between them, two varieties with different peel colors."

Anja Wünsch is crouching on the back of a delivery truck, behind her is a pile of jute sacks filled with potatoes. She picks up the next sack, cuts it open, and dumps the contents into a sturdy wooden box.

"Well, we're not filling them too tightly into these pre-germination boxes, and then they are stacked up to ten crate towers and illuminated from all sides."

Rental garden principle in the middle of Berlin

If the temperature cooperates, i.e. it does not get warm too early, the potatoes, which are illuminated all around, will now develop stable short sprouts. If the tubers are then placed in the earth, the potato sprouts will emerge two weeks earlier through the surface of the earth. This is particularly important in organic farming in order to get a head start on late blight. Hof Wendelin GmbH, to which the farm garden belongs, is not a typical agricultural operation. He works with an area of ​​only ten hectares within the city limits of Berlin. Most of the fields are in the botanical Volkspark Pankow and are open to the public, explains the farmer Phillip Brändle:

"The special thing is that we have this rental garden principle, that is, we do the basic tillage in the spring and do the planting of vegetable plots and then we lease these plots to committed city dwellers and, so to speak, lead through the agricultural gardening year with workshops and so on."

With this operating concept, the farm garden manages to finance four and a half jobs from its own resources. Not only the minimum wage is paid, but also according to the tariff:

"This is a very well-functioning concept and can be very lucrative for small farms, especially for start-ups who do not have a lot of equity, it can be an opportunity to get into agriculture close to the city."

More than every third farm has given up

Many farms are giving up - not just for reasons of age (Photo: Matteo Cocco)

Here local politicians are called upon to support young female entrepreneurs in their search for small areas near the city. Because city dwellers who are enthusiastic about organic vegetable growing or who would like to buy some from the immediate neighborhood, there are enough everywhere in Germany. With new concepts, entry into agriculture can still be successful today. Otherwise, however, the trend is pointing in the opposite direction: since 1999 the number of establishments has decreased by 42 percent. Significantly more than every third farm has given up. The farmers in Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatinate were hit particularly hard. This bloodletting can be felt in the villages:

"The farming families have grown together with their villages for centuries and are the bearers of many social lives."

Says Brigitte Scherb, who runs a 130 hectare farm herself in Lower Saxony. As president of the rural women’s association, she voluntarily represents half a million women who live in the country.

"Agriculture is in the fire brigade, it is present in the associations when the parish has a summer party, who comes then? With equipment, with commitment, with commitment? It is very, very often the farming families. It doesn't matter what it is "In addition to cultivating the land and feeding the population, agriculture has a very high social value for the villages."

"Locusts" buy arable land as an investment

In the meantime, however, there are more and more villages in which no active farmer lives anymore. Only the fields and pastures of the departing farmer or his heirs will continue to be cultivated. Either the next largest company in the neighborhood leases the space, or it is sold.

"Land often becomes vacant when landlords die and the community of heirs is no longer interested in agriculture and - I'll just put it this way - have the dollar signs in their eyes."

Karin Beuster is the managing director of Luch-Agrar GmbH in Brandenburg. Farmland is considered a good investment opportunity and in recent years prices have risen dramatically:

"And in my opinion, buying land like this - I always say" the locusts "to them. In other words, those who don't have to earn their money in agriculture and come from completely different fields."

Farms over 300 hectares benefit more from subsidies (picture alliance / Blickwinkel)

More farms from 200 hectares upwards

And in the so-called "share deals", in which investors acquire shares in a GmbH, they even save the real estate transfer tax for the land. A total of 28,500 hectares of land changed hands between 2007 and 2017 as a "share deal". The loss of land due to the construction of roads and settlements - that's 62 hectares every day - is also putting pressure on and keeping the prices for arable land high. A gradual process of concentration is taking place: fewer companies that own more land. Since the year 2000, the average amount of space in Germany has grown by significantly more than half, only the farms from 200 hectares and up have increased. A farmer now feeds many more people than 50 years ago, Brigitte Scherb recalls:

"Think about it, the generation of our grandparents, how many hours they had to work to buy a loaf of bread? Just because I no longer have to spend the same amount on my diet as I used to, today I have the option for a car, for education to spend on vacation, on everything that is dear to me. "

So that fewer and fewer people can make a living from agriculture is, to a certain extent, politically desirable. Because this makes food cheaper, and the resources released then stimulate economic growth. At the same time, the structural change makes agricultural products competitive on the world market, they can be better exported. Farmers in Germany and Europe receive funding from Brussels. The money for the so-called Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union is still the largest single item in the EU budget. In 2018 it was over 55 billion euros.

Common agricultural policy controversial

The common agricultural policy has existed since 1962. At that time only Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg belonged to the EEC, the European Economic Community. The aim of the Common Agricultural Policy, also known as the GAP or 'Ge-A-Pe', was at the time to increase agricultural productivity, strengthen trade and secure farmers' incomes. The hunger of the post-war years was not yet forgotten. Today 28 member countries benefit from the payments from the CAP, which will also be the subject of the Agriculture Ministers' Conference from April 10th to 12th in Landau. The goals of the CAP have now changed:

"The most important goal is that it stabilizes rural areas, keeps rural areas worth living in, that it supports an economically stable and competitive agriculture, and of course that something is done for the environment, biodiversity and climate protection."

Says Bernd Krüsken, General Secretary of the German Farmers' Association.

Many actors influence agricultural policy discussions at the EU Commission in Brussels (dpa)

"We have a number of actors in agricultural policy discussions who give the current CAP the testimony that it is no good at all and that it must be completely changed. And of course we contradict that. There is certainly a need for action, a need for adjustment. We have to Implementing the CAP less bureaucratically, we must certainly also be more goal-oriented. "

Large areas are preferentially subsidized

Target orientation means, above all, a link between the payment and the performance of the farmers in the area of ​​the environment and biodiversity.

"But that we are now, so to speak, completely abandoning the topic of securing agricultural incomes and creating competitive agriculture, we do not believe that it is conceivable."

Since 2003, the CAP has no longer promoted the liter of milk or the ton of wheat, as was previously the case, but the size of the area of ​​land that a farm cultivates. This reversal worked against butter mountains and milk lakes. European agriculture became more competitive. In Germany, every farm receives around 250 euros a year per hectare. But this has also resulted in new injustices:

"The more space I cultivate, the more money I get. That is the motto: if you have a lot, you will be given a lot."

Criticizes Phillip Brändle from the farm garden, who sits on the board of the working group for rural agriculture. In Germany, for example, a fifth of agricultural funds now go to just one percent of farms. In Europe, half of the arable land is cultivated by just 3.1 percent of the farms. These farms, for example in Eastern Europe, receive subsidies in the millions. Without the Common Agricultural Policy CAP, farms in this form would probably not even exist.

Funding imbalance with environmentally friendly management

The EU Commission has repeatedly tried to counteract this imbalance. At the moment, the planning for the funding period from 2021 is underway. This time, a binding cap on payments from a funding amount of 100,000 euros is under discussion. This request alone is regularly thwarted by individual member states, for example Germany.

"So capping and degression does not solve the challenges that companies are facing. We do not consider this to be a suitable instrument."

Says Bernd Krüsken from the German Farmers' Association.

"Of course, if you have several hectares, you have a cost advantage, if only because of the purchase or the rationalization options."

International Green Week 2019 (Wolfgang Kumm / dpa)

The responsible Minister of Agriculture, Julia Klöckner from the CDU added:

"But in the end it is also important not to make any capping. If we want every hectare to be cultivated in an environmentally and resource-friendly manner, then that has nothing to do with the number of hectares, but whether each individual is cultivated in this way."

Redistribution bonus protects large farms in particular

Julia Klöckner would like to see environmental issues taken into account more in the CAP payments. Specifically, she would like to advocate that every farmer must take land from production so that birds, insects and brown hares can find food here.

"In Germany we have very different farm structures, in the south we have completely different - if only because of the geography - than in the east or north of Germany. They should above all be family-run and farm-like. The redistribution bonus helps us, it's a good instrument with which we can specifically promote small and medium-sized companies. "

In order to help smaller farms, the first 46 hectares of a farm in Germany are subsidized more than the following. With an additional total of around 2,000 euros, the so-called redistribution bonus. However, this is a big word for a sum that is far too low to get even one job. Germany could do more here; the EU rules allow up to 30 percent of direct payments to be redistributed to smaller farms. In fact, there are only seven. In addition, Germany also protects its large companies with this premium. Because at the Agriculture Ministers' Conference in Brussels it was just decided this week that any member state that redistributes some money for the first hectare should not fear a cap on payments of 100,000 euros or more.

Constantly new editions, especially for pet owners

The flat-rate area bonus not only disadvantages the smaller farms, but also those with a high productivity per hectare. Wine growers, horticulturalists, pig and poultry farmers are affected. Most of the farmers currently being forced out of the market are livestock owners. Your investment costs are extremely high and new requirements have to be met all the time - the latest on the animal welfare initiative. This also includes the dairy farmers. Karin Beuster from Luch-Agrar-GmbH in Brandenburg says that anyone who refines agricultural products and creates jobs in the process is hardly funded:

"We have two farms in the village. We produce milk with two hundred cows and 570 hectares and, as I said, have seven people, including ten in total with part-time employees. The other one does not have that much space, does it alone, the market fruit company, and gets the same funding. So it is in no way rewarded anywhere that we create jobs, that we can also be more active in the region, and that we do processing. You actually have to hold your head and ask, why do you do the whole game? "

Before the milk crisis in 2015 and 2016, Luch-Agrar-GmbH was still a healthy company.

"We had good reserves, as the saying goes: a harvest on the roof, a harvest on the stalk, and a harvest on the bank. We had all that, but it was all used up with the last crisis. I can see not that we have to get money to keep this work going. "

Many dairy farms have to give up

Many dairy farmers have given up in recent years. (dpa / Oliver Berg)

Karin Beuster pulled the rip cord and decided to give up milk production. Exhausted, she sits at the desk in her small office. The first 50 cows were picked up this morning, with more to follow in the afternoon. Another dairy farm from the region takes over the animals. Beuster is happy that they don't have to be slaughtered. The manageress does not want to give up the farm, but in future she only wants to fatten it and then market the meat organically. To do this, she has to fire people, including a long-term colleague who lives in the same village.

"I don't think the number of workers that should be included in the calculation is very effective, because in the end it is incredibly bureaucratic."

Says the responsible Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner:

"And above all, you can also use tricks and in this respect you would have traded in lemons."

Ever higher print runs, ever lower revenues

On the other hand, the 'Working Group on Farming', AbL for short, provided a bonus for workers in its proposal for a new CAP. However, this is currently not being seriously discussed at EU level. The AbL represents small and medium-sized farmers in Germany, but has significantly fewer members than the German Farmers' Association. The performance of the farmers, for example - how many different crops someone grows - but also the size of the area, the AbL wants to evaluate with a point system and thus create more fairness:

"If you sit down now and say what are the major challenges in agriculture, or where agriculture has to make a contribution to society, then you get to the point where you say: we have problems with climate protection, we have problems with So society demands cows on pasture, pigs on straw with a run, chickens pecking in the ground. These are enormous investment costs that the farmers have to face. They have to rebuild their stables. There too The flat-rate area payments do not help us any further. "

"It is becoming more and more difficult to do agriculture in Germany, the requirements are getting higher and higher and the revenues are getting lower and lower."

Resources much higher, leases increased extremely

Supplemented by Brigitte Scherb from the rural women, who tend to locate their political home in the German farmers' association. Good support can help, but most farmers have problems elsewhere, says the farmer:

"The new surcharges that have been made for fertilizer law and the like, the sugar market regime has ceased to exist, livestock farming has become problematic, the dressings, neonicotinoids and other things that have guaranteed us safe harvests have been taken away; we have to evade. The resources as such have become extremely much higher, rents have gone up extremely. That makes the economic situation on the farms difficult. And it is not just that the small farms have difficulties, but also large companies, for example in the new federal states. "

On the larger farms, it is often the debt servicing on investments made that burdens the farmers. Most of the farms are being given up because the farmers have gotten old and want to withdraw. The task now is to find a successor despite the economic difficulties. Brigitte Scherb recommends approaching the topic pragmatically:

"You really have to sit down as a family and say: where are our prospects, what are our accounts like, do we have to invest again? Can we make a living from it, even with increased demands?"

High investment costs vs. poor producer prices

Big challenges for farmers: financing, requirements, bureaucracy and little income at the end of the day (dpa / Patrick Pleul)

The president of the rural women’s association and her family were able to answer these questions positively: her son has already taken over the business. But that doesn't work everywhere, because the children are often not interested in agriculture and prefer to live in the city. But sometimes it works the other way around:

"I came across agriculture by chance, so to speak, and got stuck, and I love agriculture very much."

For example, says Phillip Brändle from the working group on rural agriculture. He and his partner now want to buy a farm in Brandenburg with their own land, the necessary machines and 30 cows. All of this should cost 1.5 million euros. The 34-year-old submitted his business plan to the bank. Now it's time to hope and wait:

"The start-up capital that you need is of course very, very, very high. To make a simple comparison: If I want to program an app, I need a computer, and if I want to cultivate a hectare of land, then I need an acre of land and a tractor, potato plants and tillage machines, and I need a yard and a warehouse and I need marketing. So the investment costs are very high and the producer prices are often correspondingly bad. "

The EU should reward the number of jobs better

A better price for their milk. That was also the greatest wish of Karin Beuster from Luch Agrar-GmbH. Now she has given up dairy farming and is becoming an organic farmer. She is currently standing in the cowshed with the animals that are still there:

"This is the offspring for milk production. They are practically all young cattle. Over here in the back area, they are practically fattening cattle that we bought in November last year. This is practically the start of the farm after milk production."

The fertilizer and seed manufacturers, the agricultural machinery manufacturers, the dairies, the food industry and the food retail trade earn money from agriculture. Only the farmers themselves often have to struggle to survive. The EU's common agricultural policy could counteract this if it would better reward the number of jobs on a farm.