Germany's Agriculture: After the Wall Came Down; Political Unification Has Resulted in Immense Changes to the Former German Democratic Republic (GDR) State Controlled Farming Systems. Bruce Jobson Reviews the Agricultural Advances after a Recent Invitation to Visit a Former Large-Scale East German Collective Farm

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GERMAN unification occurred in 1990 and the political developments within the country have helped forge major advances within the economy.

Agriculture plays a significant role within Germany and combining two diametrically opposed systems and philosophies after the collapse of the Berlin Wall presented immense challenges for the former GDR state-run collectives.

The average herd size in Bavaria is 35 cows, 62 is the national average and, in the five former GDR states, the figure is 200.

However, that is only part of the picture. Milk production per cow in the five states has more than doubled - almost tripled in some cases - and cow numbers have halved.

Unification also, of course, resulted in a re-evaluation of the national milk quota.

Rhinmilch-Verbund (R-V) is a former state collective farm, 75 kilometres north of Berlin.

The 4,000 hectare (ha) enterprise, prior to 1990, had 705 members who effectively farmed the land.

Restructuring the business model was extremely complex, resulting in 94 members deciding to form a limited company to purchase the collective farm and business assets.

External valuations were set in place for those who wished to remain or leave, resulting in a value of 8.5m Deutch marks or 4.2m euros, according to company president, Helmut Riestock.

He said: "The limited company became the owner of the former GDR land, cattle, buildings and facilities. We were confident we could raise the capital against the value.

"R-V acquired funding from the bank, which was not easy, and we sold property and buildings as a form of capitalisation.

"Since then, 40 shareholder members have left the business, owing to old age and retirement and R-V now consists of 44 members, 25 being actively employed.

"When someone wishes to leave the co-operative and withdraw equity, we have to buy out their share at current market value."

LARGE-SCALE BUSINESS The farm operation is on a massive scale.

R-V has 2,500ha in arable and 1,500ha in grassland. The area has low rainfall - 20ins per annum - and grows 900ha of wheat and barley, 300ha oil seed rape and 1,100ha maize.

The business has over 600 beef suckler cows, its own on-farm slaughterhouse, two on-farm vets, three bio-gas plants (anaerobic digesters), an electricity generation plant, and its own kindergarten.

Prior to 1990, the state collective farm employed 518 staff - under the former GDR regime, seemingly, everyone in the village had a job.

One year later 193 staff remained employed. Today, 84 workers are involved in the operation of crop production (21), dairy (41), technical (8), bio-gas (2), slaughterhouse (6) and the administration of the company (6). A land ratio per worker of 47ha; compared to 7ha per worker in 1990; an increase of almost 700%.

DAIRY HERD ADVANCEMENT Similarly, the scale and the advancement of dairy operations has been astounding as a result of developments in management and breeding.

In 1990, the herd consisted of 3,600 cows averaging 4,300kgs at 3.85% fat (protein testing started in 1996). However, under complete state control, a cross-breeding policy produced the Schwarzbuntes Milchrind (SMR) breed involving a combination of 25% Friesian, 50% Holstein and 25% Jersey bloodlines.

Subsequent advances in management and feeding resulted in yields increasing to an average of 6,300kgs at 4.4% fat in 1993. Today, owing to the use of Holstein sires, the herd averages 10,820kgs at 3.85% fat and 3.23% protein.

Over the past 20 years, the herd has reduced from 3,600 SMR cows to 1,800 Holsteins. Two-thirds of the herd is milked on a thriceper-day basis, with lower yielding animals being milked twice daily. The farm was allocated 70% milk quota and over the years has purchased an additional 5.5m litres, which is now virtually valueless in the EU.

Cows are milked in a 34/68 stall milking parlour operated by teams of three staff plus one additional team member assisting with back-and-forth cow movement. …