BERLIN, GERMANY — Germany has the largest economy and the largest population of any European Union country, and it plays a key role in the formation of European agricultural policy. Its reliance on Russian gas for energy, and farm inputs, has proved problematic and controversial since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February.

In its Aug. 18 Grain Market Report, the International Grains Council (IGC) put Germany’s total 2022-23 grains crop at 42.5 million tonnes, a forecast revised down from 42.6 million since the previous month’s report, and up on the 2021-22 figure of 42.3 million. 

The wheat crop is forecast at 22.1 million tonnes, an unrevised figure that compares with 21.5 million in 2021-22. Maize output is seen at 4.3 million tonnes, also unrevised, and down from 4.5 million the previous year. 

The barley crop forecast, at 10.4 million tonnes, is unchanged both from the previous estimate and the previous year’s output. The crop of oats is forecast at 700,000 tonnes, unchanged from the IGC’s previous prediction and down from 800,000 the year before.

Germany is the world’s biggest producer of rye, with a forecast crop of 3.1 million tonnes, which had not been updated since the previous month’s report and compares with a 2021-22 crop of 3.2 million tonnes. 

Production of rapeseed in 2022-23 comes to 4 million tonnes, according to the IGC’s latest figure, which is revised up from the previous estimate of 3.8 million. The previous year’s crop was 3.5 million. Rapeseed, harvested earlier than wheat, for example, was less affected by Europe’s record hot summer than the grains. 

The German farmers’ union DBV issued a preliminary estimate for the 2023 harvest on Aug. 23, putting the total crop at 43 million tonnes, which it compared with a figure of 42 million for the 2022 harvest, pointing out as well that the total is below the 2014-21 average crop of 45.6 million tonnes, despite the drought that affected grains production in 2018.   

DBV’s figure for winter wheat production is 21.8 million tonnes compared with the previous year’s 21 million, and a 2014-2021 average of almost 24 million. Winter barley output is put at 9.3 million, up by 5% from the previous year.

The union’s president, Joachim Rukwied, said that “this year’s grain harvest is somewhat better than last year in terms of quantity, but the quality of the wheat, in particular, leaves a lot to be desired.” 

“Regional differences are even more pronounced than in previous years,” he added, also noting that “the prolonged drought in many regions of the country shows once again that farmers are feeling the effects of climate change very directly.”

Rukwied attacked European Union plans to cut the use of agrochemicals as “irresponsible,” warning that they would “endanger the food supply in Europe.” 

Figures released a few days later from the German food and farming ministry (BMEL) showed the 2022 harvest up by 4.8% from 2021 at around 39.7 million tonnes, 1.5% higher than the five-year average. BMEL quoted its 3.5-million-tonne figure for grain maize separately. Maize, harvested later than other grain crops, suffered worst from the July heat, and Germany’s output was 21.5% down on the previous year and 12.7% below the long-term average.

Germany’s Federal Minister Cem Özdemir, presenting the results, said that “the consequences of the climate crisis can now be seen in our fields. Our harvest report is increasingly becoming a testimony to the climate crisis.”

Özdemir, a member of the environment-focused “Alliance 90/The Greens” party also explained that harvesting had taken place earlier in almost all areas of the country, while there were sharp variations in yield. 

He also bemoaned the effect of the geopolitical situation, noting that “Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in violation of international law, also affected global food system,” as “markets reacted to imminent shortages with high prices.”

“Diesel, fertilizer and pesticides also became more expensive,” he said. “We must support agriculture in becoming more independent, for example from synthetic fertilizers, which are produced in an energy-intensive manner, and above all from Russian gas. Damage caused by the effects of climate change also has a major impact.”

According to EU-based USDA attaches, in a July 19 report, while most European countries have reported reduced overall crops, Germany constitutes the exception to the rule as it is the only large grain producing Member State that reports a larger total grain output in 2022-23.

Flour milling

According to the European Flour Millers’ Manual on the European Flour Milling Industry, there were 185 mills in Germany in 2021. They produce just under 6 million tonnes of flour (wheat equivalent), some 242,000 tonnes of spelt flour and around 588,000 tonnes of rye flour. 

In 2021 the milling sector purchased around 7.5 million tonnes of wheat and 700,000 tonnes of rye. German bread consumption that year was 78.3 kilograms per person. 

The European Flour Mills names as the biggest companies in the sector Albert Mühlschlege, Bindewald Gutting, Cramer-Mühle, Flechtorfer Mühle, Gebrüder Engelke, GoodMills Deutschland, Hemelter Mühle Dr. Cordesmeyer, Mühle Rüningen Stefan Engelke and Roland Mills United.

According to the sector organization Verband Deutscher Mühlen, the industry tends to be more concentrated in the south of Germany (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland). On average, in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, each mill supplies around 173,637 people with flour, while in the north (Lower Saxony, Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg), the figure is 551,155 people per mill. The average German mill processes 44,322 tonnes of grain a year supplying flour and other milled products to around 400,000 residents.

According to Verband Deutscher Mühlen, there were almost 19,000 mills in Germany in 1950, a figure that went down to some 2,500 by 1980. The total by 2020 was 550, with only 186 that processed more than 1,000 tonnes of grain a year, making them large enough to appear in the official total.

Biotech and biofuels

The German public strongly opposes the use of genetic modification in agriculture or the sale of GM food products. 

In a report from Oct. 25, 2021, the USDA attaché in Berlin explained that “Germans are generally open to new technology and willing to innovate but farming, and especially agricultural biotechnology, occupies a unique political space.”

“German society is conflicted regarding agricultural biotechnology, and this is reflected in mixed government policies and messaging,” the report said. “Public rejection of GE crops is widespread.” 

Opposition to GM foods is “steadily in the 80% range.” 

“For nearly a generation, German environmental and consumer activists have protested against the use of biotechnology in agriculture both in Germany and globally,” the USDA said. “Biotech test plots, which are used both as a research tool and are a required part of the EU regulatory approval process, were destroyed by vandals so often that test plots are no longer attempted in Germany today.

“In the current environment there is very little prospect of developing a German market for GE crops or foods, other than the existing feed market for soybeans. Political, business, regulatory, and social barriers raise questions about the long-term competitiveness of the German agricultural biotechnology sector.”

Germany is home to plant breeding companies such as Bayer, BASF and KWS, but the attaché noted that they have moved research and development operations to sites outside of the EU. For example, Bayer moved them to the United States in 2004 and completed the acquisition of Monsanto in June 2018. BASF followed Bayer in 2012 and KWS opened its US biotech research center in 2015.

“This is a reaction to negative attitudes toward biotech crops in Europe as well as non-existent consumer markets,” the report said. “Germany, nonetheless, remains a major consumer of GE products since it imports about 6 million tonnes of soybeans and soybean meal for animal feed annually.”

According to a joint EU-wide attaché report published on July 13, Germany is Europe’s biggest user of fuel ethanol, at 1.456 billion liters in 2021, compared with 1.453 billion the year before. The writers noted that the pandemic had a limited effect on ethanol use in EU countries. 

At 759 million liters in 2021, 747 million in 2021, the country is the second largest producer of fuel ethanol, behind leader France. Wheat is the main raw material, with sugar beets also used.

Chris Lyddon is World Grain’s European correspondent. He may be contacted at: [email protected].