1.1 Man and Land at the Individual Level

The main change in the relation between man and land at the level of the individual farm household relates to changes in the size and type of farms. In Germany, traditionally, farms were of different sizes, family farms predominating. Farms of large sizes were few in the part of Germany which now constitutes the Federal Republic. They were mainly estates owned by the nobility, or public domain. Already during the pre-industrialization period, many farms were of a smaller size than a family holding, especially near cities and in regions where it was the custom to bequeath the farm to several heirs. Some of these small farmers were able to specialize in satisfying the needs of the urban dwellers; others became parttime farmers occupied mainly in agricultural work or handicrafts.

The early period of industrialization until World War I brought little change in the farm-size structure of German agriculture. The man -land ratio was more or less constant. The increasing demand for food in the emerging cities improved the prospects for small holdings because of the greater demand for animal products and vegetables. In general, the biological-technical progress with the utilization of manure, the results of research on breeding and feeding, and the improved cropping pattern led to an increase in the production per area. This intensified production, together with the low risk because of diversified farm organization and the fertility of the soil on account of the high animal ratio, resulted in the conditions of livelihood of the farming population developing at the same pace as that of the rest of the society.

Between World War I and II, the man - land ratio still did not change very much. The increasing demand from the cities made it possible to intensify production, especially animal production which, alone, provided 80 per cent of the income of small and medium size farms.

Techanization was still limited to mower, seed drill, and similar equipment which increased yields rather than saved labour. The process of increasing production - 3 per cent in the long run -continued, and the more economic, market-oriented management of farms led to some regional differentiation in agriculture.

The thorough change in the size and type of farms occurred within the last 30 years. Starting around 1950, Germany experienced a rapid industrialization which resulted in migration from agriculture as an occupation, and, later, from the village to the cities. The decrease in the agricultural labour force was possible only because of an increase in the size of farms, substitution of capital for labour, and increase in labour productivity.

This outmigration was caused by a number of factors. The higher wage level, even for unskilled labour, played an important role. Especially the younger generation was attracted by the so-called better life in the cities as well as by independence from the strict social control in the village. Differences in the level of schools and training facilities and generally better opportunities also played a role.

The substitution of labour by capital was a very rapid process. While, in 1949, 75,000 tractors were operating in German agriculture, this number increased to 1.4 million by 1974, and other investments showed a similar increase. On small farms, this mechanization was difficult to justify from an economic standpoint, and various forms of joint use of machinery developed. In the case of small farms, the increase in yield through the utilization of machinery was more important than the laboursaving effect, and, frequently, a small farmer could prevent his son from migrating only by purchasing a tractor so that the son no longer had to be a "cow farmer."

This rapidly developing mechanization was made possible by relatively favourable product prices for agriculture. But it went along with little adjustment of farm sizes to the requirements of mechanized agriculture. Until the 60s, the combination of biological-technical and mechanical-technical progress caused an increase in productivity which - even with difficulty - made it possible for agriculture to follow at some distance the progress achieved in other sectors.

But when increasing labour shortage, increasing capital requirements and interest payments, and every rise in the income levels in industry put more and more pressure on .agriculture, far-reaching changes occurred in the size and type of farms. Between 1949 and 1976, not less than 760,000 farms = 50 per cent ceased to operate. Regionwise, the process differed with regard to the time at which it started and to its intensity. The degree of industrialization, the type of industries, and the prevailing agrarian structure played a role.

For those who remained in agriculture, the type of farming underwent drastic changes. Farming, in the first place, ceased to guarantee subsistence to every owner of a family farm. Farming was no longer a way of life but an economic enterprise requiring managerial skill of a high degree. Not every farmer was successful in adjusting to the new conditions, and there was an important differentiation within agriculture. Income per farm worker showed a difference of as much as 1 : 6 between the upper and lower fourth of holdings, and a much greater one between the richest and the poorest farms.

The ever increasing capital requirements brought about a tendency to increase the size of farms by taking over the land of those who had given up farming. In addition, a trend to simplify farm organization by giving up the traditional diversity developed, and, especially production for self-sufficiency was discontinued. Specialization in certain types of production reduced the necessary number of machines and different forms of cooperation became popular with a view to reaping economies of scale, or to enjoying cost degression. In some cases, specialization included processing and, especially in the case of animal production, production on the basis of purchased fodder.

The whole process did not only reduce the number of farms by 50 per cent and increase the average size from 8 to more than 30 ha over the 30- year period, but led to distinctly different types of farms. Today, German agriculture consists of about 400,000 full-time farms

  • 95,000 farms with an additional income of less than 50 per cent 320,000 farms with an income of less than 50 per cent from agriculture
  • 815,000 farms of more than 1 ha.

In addition, more than 1.5 million households have homesteads with agriculturally used areas of less than 1 ha.

Thus, while the size structure and organization of holdings underwent a considerable change, the ownership and tenancy situation remained rather constant. German farmers usually own their land. Tenant farmers are few, and, in such cases, the land is either owned by the state, or by a farmer who died and whose family feels unable to manage the farm. Renting plots is more common, especially in the area where the farm is divided among the heirs. This serves the purpose of adjusting farm size to different farm types and to the availability of labour and machinery. With the phasing out of many small farms, this type of land lease has increased, and rented land now makes up about 22 instead of 12 per cent (in 1949) of all agricultural land and is increasing further.