German agriculture: Short-term crisis management or long-term strategy?

The German agriculture minister wants to make milk reduction schemes compulsory. [USDA/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Germany’s agricultural challenges.

Numerous agricultural crises in Germany have made life difficult for the Agriculture Ministry lately, especially in light of much-needed structural changes to the sector. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany’s new budget for 2017 would see the Ministry for Food and Agriculture receive an extra €300 million, bringing its total spending power to €5.9 billion.

However, questions remain as to whether this increase will be enough to drag German agriculture out of multiple crises – ranging from the Russian embargo on European farm products to overproduction in the dairy and livestock sectors.

Christian Schmidt (CSU), Germany’s agriculture minister, announced a series of measures in a speech to the Bundestag recently.

Schmidt promised German farmers “further tax reductions” and subsidies worth about €178 million in accident insurance. Dairy farmers are also set to benefit from €150 million in EU aid intended to help reduce milk production, an amount that will be topped up by a further €58 million in aid.

Schmidt wants to complement the EU’s injection of cash and double it with national funds to €117 million and make reducing milk production compulsory, as the agriculture minister is not prepared to “perpetuate the status quo”.

With so many millions poured into the sector, the pressure to ensure German agriculture finally becomes economically and ecologically sustainable has never been higher.

“Most German regions were competitive in crop production without financial aid,” said Professor Folkhard Isermeyer of the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, adding that “competitiveness concerns only exist in the rearing of livestock”.

Instead, Isermeyer insisted that agricultural production methods and structures, in line with social requirements, are the main needs of Germany’s agricultural sector. Bringing these in line with each other is a job for politicians.

According to different expert groups, livestock farming and environmental protection are high up on the social agenda, closely followed by soil sealing and degradation, phosphorus consumption, rural development, social structures and other factors.

Isermeyer said that the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy is an effective but insufficient means of approaching these concerns, as they “promote individual operations” rather than “achieving social objectives”.

Overproduction, glyphosate and CETA

The German regions’ agricultural ministers, during an autumn conference at the beginning of the month, tried to find a solution to the social needs of German agriculture. The fruit of the efforts was a programme called “Milk and the CAP up to 2020”, which takes in everything from free trade agreements to reducing bureaucracy and consumer protection.

At this point in time, it is important that “the Common Agricultural Policy is crisis-proof in the long run,” the plan stated. In the field of market management, instruments have to be put in place in order to better insulate the market from crises and prevent German agricultural product prices from plummeting.

In order for European milk producers to once again tap into their traditional markets, the German regions’ agriculture ministers called on Berlin to work towards lifting the EU’s Russia embargo.

Even though the ministers welcomed certain federal measures, like a coordinated strategy on food waste, they were unable to come to a unified position on the most important issues on the agenda.

The reaction of the ministers to consumer protection and the agriculture ministry’s report on the implementation of international sustainability goals suggests there is little common ground between regional and federal policy. The ministers “once again strongly” called on Berlin to take their comments into account when adopting the German sustainability strategy in November and asked why they had not been already.

Whether German agricultural policy will, in reality, feel an obligation towards safeguarding social factors in agriculture remains to be seen in the long run.

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