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Agriculture is a small sector of the German economy (see table 13, Appendix). It has declined in importance all during the twentieth century and by 1989 amounted to only 1.6 percent of West German GDP. Although agriculture's share of East German GDP was twice as high as in the west, even after the two economies are completely united, agriculture's share of GDP is expected to amount to only about 2 percent. However, despite the sector's small size, it remains politically important.

The number of farms had decreased steadily in West Germany, from 1.6 million in 1950 to 630,000 in 1990. In East Germany, where farms were collectivized under the socialist regime, there had been about 5,100 agricultural production collectives with an average of 4,100 hectares under cultivation. Since unification, about three-quarters of the collectives have remained as cooperatives, partnerships, or joint-stock companies. The others were returned to their original owners--if those owners could be found--or were privately sold, becoming about 14,000 private farms. In western Germany and in the newly privatized farms in eastern Germany, family farms predominate. For the 630,000 farms, there are 750,000 full-time employees. There are also, however, many more part-time employees, and most farms do not represent their owners' full-time occupation.

Although the number of farms has declined, production has actually increased through more efficient production methods. By the early 1990s, a single farmer could produce enough food for seventy-five persons, far more than was the case in the 1950s or 1960s.

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 (see table 14; table 15, Appendix). 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.

Since the 1960s, German agricultural policy has not been made in Germany but in the EC. All agricultural laws and regulations are written in Brussels, often after difficult negotiations between food-producing and food-consuming states. The main objective of those negotiations is to obtain high incomes for the farmers while keeping market prices low enough to avoid consumer protests. To make up the difference, the EC adopted the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP--see Glossary) subsidy program and the export subsidy program, both of which benefit German farmers as well as other EU farmers. In return, the German farmers have complied with European directives on the quality and quantity of production.


Germany also has significant lumber production. Almost one-third of Germany's total land area, especially in the south, is forested. German forests produce nearly 40 million cubic meters of timber every year, satisfying two-thirds of domestic demand. However, Germany has to import most of its hardwood.

There has been growing concern for decades about environmental damage to Germany's forests. By the 1970s, trees were losing their needles or leaves and were growing less full than in the past (see The Environment, ch. 3). A number of laws and regulations have attempted to stem this phenomenon, which the Germans call Waldsterben (death of the forest). The Forest Preservation and Forestry Promotion Act was passed in West Germany in 1975 to prevent destructive and wasteful timber policies. It now applies to all of Germany. Under the act, forest owners must return cut areas to their original condition, converting forests into timber farms in which the cut trees are replaced by seedlings. This policy works better for pine than for other timber. However, despite legislation and the great attention paid to the forests, no lasting solution has yet been found. As a result of the decades of ecological damage, many German forests, including the highland Black Forest in the southwest, are badly depleted.

Data as of August 1995

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Germany Table of Contents