Structural change in German agriculture

Over the last decades German agriculture has undergone major changes. The number of farms and employees has decreased significantly. In contrast, quantities of produced goods has clearly increased. There is a reason for this apparent contradiction: The remaining farms get larger and more efficient. However, family businesses continue to dominate German agriculture. Larger farm structures can be found mainly in Eastern Germany.

In the 1950s, German agriculture was characterized by manual work and smallholding, even though there has always been regions with larger agricultural areas. With the rise of agricultural machinery the situation changed and farming became a capital-intensive business. Not every farm could afford the investment in expensive agricultural machines, the limited space in some villages meant farms weren’t able to build larger stables or lease additional land and in other farms succession was uncertain. Subsequently a structural change started and
continues even today. On farms where no sufficient future prospects exist, managers decide to leave the sector. Growth-oriented farms take over the freed-up land and increase their own production.

The total land area of Germany is 35.7 million hectares. Out of this area, 18.5 million hectares were used for agriculture in 2015, which is 52% of the total area. In 1992 the land used for agricultural purposes covered 19.5 million hectares and 55% of the total land. Due to increases in efficiency the area used for agriculture can be reduced while still attaining equal or even increased yields. The highest proportion of agricultural land is used for cereal crops. Out of all crop groups cereals have had the highest fluctuation in cultivated area since 1992. The peak was reached in 2000 with 6.5 million hectares of cultivated area dedicated to growing cereals.Within this group of cereals winter wheat is the most important, other important crops include maize and winter oilseed rape. The acreage of maize in Germany was rising continuously until 2014, when it levelled out and decreased slightly post 2015. Land dedicated to winter oilseed rape increased until 2007 before beginning a slightly downward trend, with small fluctuations in 2013 and 2014. In other crop groups, both potatoes and sugar beet also steadily decreased in acreage since 1992.

Due to higher social interest, organic farming has significantly increased in cultivated area in recent years, and made up 6% of total agricultural land in 2009 compared to 1% in 1992. The German federal government has declared a plan to increase the proportion of area used for organic farming up to 20% in the coming years.

Cultivated area in Germany - 1992/2016

Kira Meiß

Kleffmann Group

Junior Project Manager AMIS