Germany's agricultural sector is a unique case compared to other European nations due to the post-World War II era that saw the nation’s division, influencing every industry and leaving its impact for the rest of the century. When we talk about Germany we have to talk about two agricultural systems – starkly different from one another.
In West Germany, a mosaic of small family farms dominated the landscape until the 21st century, when large farms entered the scene in a move towards consolidation, leading to large yields and a more optimised management of crops and resources. This transformation was driven by the rationalization of agriculture, prompting a lot of small landholders to exit the sector. Remaining farms expanded in size to meet modern demands.
The process of continuous enlargement significantly reduced the total number of holdings. From 1950 to the tail end of the 20th century, the count plummeted by more than 75%. The workforce in agriculture witnessed a similar decline, shrinking from approximately 20% of the workforce in 1950 to under 3% by the end of the last century. Smaller farms often became part-time endeavors as wage laborers sought out employment on the largest farms.
In East Germany, the post-war era marked a different path as many large estates either became state-run farms or were divided. By 1960, nearly all small farms in East Germany united to form agricultural cooperatives. This led to the concentration of agricultural production into enormous specialized units. State-run (or better known as cooperative) crop-producing enterprises averaged more than 11,000 acres by the mid-1980s.
The reunification of Germany changed everything as most farms in East Germany ceased their operations, and the agricultural industry spent decades aligning its two halves. Today, there’s a strong push towards automation, consolidation, sustainable processes and organic farming.