Many differences in US, German agriculture

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Elena Kretschmer is the Hans Joohs Exchange Program intern visiting New Ulm from Germany and working at The Journal this summer. She shares her observations on agriculture in America compared to Germany.)

NEW ULM – Agriculture is undoubtedly a major industry in the United States, especially in the Midwest. It seems like everywhere you go, there are hundreds of farms on the way. In Germany, agriculture is only a small sector of the economy. You often don’t even recognize a farm as a farm since many of them are not out in the country. In both countries, most of the farms are family-owned and there is more to compare.

As of the last US census of agriculture in 2012, there were 2.1 million farms all over the country, covering an area of 915 million acres, an average of 434 acres per farm. According to the statistics, the number of farms in Minnesota has decreased significantly over the years. Since Germany is a comparatively small country, it can’t keep up with these numbers. As of the German agriculture census of 2010, there are only 300,700 agricultural holdings in the country and the utilized agricultural area is only about 42 million acres, an average of about 138 acres per farm.

In both countries, there seems to be a trend towards fewer but larger farms. Many smaller farms struggle and close. The abandoned areas are taken over by other farms – usually bigger ones – which in turn leads to the continuous growth of the remaining holdings.

In livestock keeping, too, a concentration can be observed. In 72 percent of all farms, animals were kept in 2010, including some 13 million cattle, 27 million pigs, and 131 million hens, ducks and geese. However, there is not only a drop in the number of farms keeping livestock, there is also a lot of specialization. In 57 percent of all agricultural holdings, only one species is kept, primarily poultry and pigs.

Agricultural products vary from region to region, no matter in which of the two countries you compare. In the flat terrain of northern Germany and especially in the eastern portions, cereal grains 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. Fifty-five percent of arable land in Germany was used for cereal grain production in 2014.

The United States is, by far, the largest producer of corn in the world. Soybeans rank second among the most-planted field crops in the USA, accounting for over 50 percent of the world’s soybean production. Cattle meat as well as milk are also produced in great quantities.

German farms mostly rely on several sources of income, which really makes many of those working as self-employed farmers today businessmen rather than farmers.

In a little less than half of all the family-owned farms, it is the owner’s main source of income. The other half of the owners run the farm on a part-time basis, earning their livelihood mainly from additional jobs outside agriculture. The most frequent additional source of income was generating renewable energies. This includes wind and biogas plants and the utilization of biomass to produce heat and electricity.

One of the major problems in German farming is the lack of successors. Farmers have often passed on their farms to their own children, but they are getting old. Sixty-eight percent were 45 years or older in 2010. Not even one in three of those agricultural sole proprietors had found a successor. This means that, when the survey was conducted, over two thirds of those farmers did not know to whom they could pass on their farm. However, family support is decreasing. Fewer and fewer family members participate in busy farm life. It is an interesting fact to keep in mind and to observe, where this trend will be leading to in the future.

A very striking difference between German and American farms is their appearance. As soon as you are in the countryside – at least here in Minnesota – you see one farm after the other. It is not hard to identify them as farms because of their very characteristic barns and silos. In Germany, you might sometimes have a hard time recognizing a farm as a farm. The barns look almost like the houses the farmers live in, except that they have a big wooden gate. The silos are so integrated in the overall picture of the farm that you might not even see them. Most of the farmers’ fields are not very close to their farms, so farmers have to drive out to their land. Also, the machinery they use is not nearly as big as in the US, which is probably due to the greater expanses of land in the US.

Overall, US farming for me is way more impressive than German farming and maybe even more attractive in terms of the land that is available.

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