A DOUBLE dose of agricultural protests saw disruptions across Berlin city centre last weekend, as farmers, environmentalists, animal welfare campaigners and members of the public came together to voice their frustrations at planned changes to agricultural policy.

The rallies coincided with International Green Week, a food and agricultural fair held annually in Berlin which has become a battleground for agriculture in recent years.

On the one hand, farmers took to the streets to demonstrate against the increasing pressure being placed on the industry in light of environmental targets and on the other, farmers protested in favour of change and an agricultural policy which will allow them to fulfil environmental targets.

On Friday, January 17, the alliance ‘Land schafft Verbindung’ (Countryside Creates Connection) protested against planned government regulations aimed at protecting the environment, such as policies regarding new animal welfare labelling and restrictions on the use of pesticides, which will see weedkiller glyphosate banned by 2023. Over 5000 tractors brought traffic to a standstill across the country for the second time since their recent protest in October 2019.

The following day, the alliance ‘Wir haben es satt’ (We’ve had enough) held a joint demonstration with farmers, climate and animal welfare activists to call for a more environmentally friendly agricultural policy. Around 30,000 individuals took to the streets to raise their frustrations with the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, claiming that it has encouraged mass livestock farming at the expense of addressing the climate emergency.

The Scottish Farmer:

Hundreds of tractors descend on Berlin's famous Brandenburg Gate on Saturday, January 18

The Scottish Farmer was in Berlin on the Saturday as thousands of campaigners and droves of tractors piled on to the streets in front of Germany’s famous Brandenburg Gate and managed to speak with some of the protesters involved.

“We are so angry at the government for their inaction over addressing climate change,” stressed the facilitator of the second protest, Jutta Sunderman. “Germany’s agricultural minister Julia Klöckner has allowed industrial scale farming to continue for too long whilst small farms have been disappearing.

“Farmers want to work with the land and protect biodiversity, but policy and subsidies aren’t helping them,” she continued. “As can be seen from yesterday’s protest, there is an unhealthy ‘agriculture versus environment’ dynamic being created, whereas today, we have over 70 organisations including farmers, animal welfare campaigners and environmental groups all working together to demand a better future for our planet.”

Campaigners from ‘Vier Pfoten’ (Four Paws) explained that they aren’t pointing the blame at large-scale farmers but instead calling out the government for not giving them the support to make changes to their businesses which could favour better animal welfare and good environmental practice.

Farm animals’ campaigner Martin Ritterschofen said: “Farmers care about animal welfare but they aren’t always given the financial support to make changes to their business, but instead are constantly under pressure to mass produce. The German government has agricultural policy totally wrong. The CAP is under reform and needs to move away from direct subsidies for big landowners and move towards rewarding productive farmers.”

Fellow campaigner Daniela Schneider added: “There is so much focus on growth and exports when we should be looking at improving procurement of healthy, locally produced food in schools and hospitals. We could be using subsidies to promote a more circular economy which will allow us to provide food to meet increased demand but to do so sustainably.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Farmers demand that they are rewarded for their contribution to conserving and enhancing the environment

A procession of hundreds of tractors descended upon the much-loved German landmark brandishing messages such as ‘Umweltleistungen der bauern entlohnen’ (reward the environmental performance of farmers) and ‘nach Berlin, für eine enkeltaugliche landwirtschaft’ (To Berlin, for a grand-child friendly agriculture).

Sheep farmer Sandra Neuendorf rolled down her window to share her message to the German government: “We have to change politics as it is not equal for all farmers, only those with the most hectares.”

Sandra grazes her sheep on 125 acres in the North of Berlin. “Most farmers want change but don’t know where to begin,” she continued. “The costs of farming are too high, building a new shed can cost around €60,000. We cannot afford this and so many smaller farms are being lost.” Since 2005, an estimated 130,000 farms in Germany have closed.

The Scottish Farmer:

Sheep farmer Sandra Neuendorf stresses that the costs facing farmers who want to innovate their busnesses are too high

The same sentiments were echoed by Bremen based farmer Henning Vennhold who looks after a herd of Limousin cattle: “We need to think of the land we are passing on to the next generation. If we don’t prioritise soil health and reverse wildlife decline now, then what will we leave for our grandchildren?”

Most of the farmers taking part in the procession claim that agriculture is ready to change but is stifled by government policy. They also stress that larger farms are willing to do more to address their carbon footprint and give back to nature but are locked in a ‘vicious cycle’ where they are pressured to produce more and more without the time and money to change to more climate friendly methods.

Organic crop farmer Aaron Quis farms in Wendland in the north of Germany, where he says most of the big crop farms are based: “It is almost too late in the game to avoid the ecological disaster we are walking in to. There is pressure to meet the demands of rising global food insecurity, but a balance must be struck between producing high quality local food which can benefit both consumers and producers and the environment in the process.”

The Head of fundraising at Friends of the Earth Germany recognised that farmers have no say on industry prices: “Many farmers rely on pesticides as they are pressured to have a successful harvest and produce high yields,” commented Nicole Anton.

The Scottish Farmer:

Head of fundraising at Friends of the Earth Germany, Nicole Anton

“We want to ban certain pesticides and advocate for more precise use, but the government has to support farmers in order to allow them to make that transition.

“We are not against farmers; we want to be part of the dialogue and to support them move to more nature friendly farming by helping them understand what measures might be most realistic.”

Nicole also stressed that they have a huge job on their hands to encourage consumers to make more ecological food choices and to support regional producers.

“We need to ensure German citizens are buying regional food not importing superfoods like avocados from halfway round the world. We understand that price will always dictate consumer choice, but we need to demonstrate that you can have a healthy affordable diet and support local producers at the same time.”