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International Programs News & Views Volume 4

July 1997


David Schertz and Norman Kempf completed an assessment of resource concerns in the former Federal Democratic Republic.  They evaluated potential scientific and technical exchanges between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Federal and State Agricultural and Environmental Institutes in East Germany.

Five States comprise the former Federal Democratic Republic, known as East Germany.  Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, and Thuringia have State Agricultural Research Institutes and are connected to or cooperate with the Federal Agricultural Research Institutes.


There is a great deal of research taking place in the State Agricultural Research Institutes.  Much of this research is related to long-term projects started during the period of occupation or the "former time" as the local people referred to the era 1945 through reunification in 1989.  The research emphasizes crop rotations under different tillage systems.  Common scenarios being studied include tillage alternatives to the moldboard plow such as chiseling, rotary chisels, and no-till.  The results from these tests showed that infiltration rates were better on the systems using the chisels and no till.  They also found that reduced tillage systems were more profitable because the production costs were less and crop yields remained stable.

Many of the areas visited have been in cultivation for 250 to 300 years.  Most of these fields have organic levels of 1% or less.  The research to date shows they had very little success in increasing the organic matter level with various tillage systems.  Common crops grown are winter wheat, winter barley, winter rye, corn, sugar beets, and rape.  There are significant numbers of swine and dairy cattle.  The number of beef cattle and sheep were down significantly as compared to 1989.

The former collective farms were largely intact with the management controlled by corporate groups who rent the land from the state and/or former owners.  Many of these farms are over 2,500 acres with some exceeding 15,000 acres.  The farms are using modern technology and equipment.  U.S. tractors and farm equipment manufactured in the U.S. or in Germany were found on many farms.  Farm equipment from the U.S. was popular because it was competitive in price and designed for large scale operations.

The dairy farms were highly mechanized.  They are doing an exceptional job of keeping odors and nutrient losses low.  This includes large storage pits and injection of manure.  Dairy production is highly mechanized.  One dairy had an exceptionally efficient "carousel" milking parlor where 60 cows are fed and milked in approximately 10 minutes on a continuous basis, accommodating 3,000 cows.

Precision farming, using Geographic Information Systems, is growing in popularity and receiving as much attention as in the United States.  It is being used to pinpoint nutrient, pesticide, and seed placement.  Although in its infancy in most of the states in Eastern Germany, it is bound to grow rapidly--especially on larger farms.  There was one private company that was specializing in this area and is operating much the same as a fertilizer dealer in the U.S. by supplying Global Positioning System (GPS) maps and providing equipment with GPS and computer equipment to provide variable rate application of nutrients.

Another area of great interest is Germany's establishment of biospheres, where agriculture is conducted in combination with areas of plant preservation and conservation.  These are very unique and provide a model for the U.S. to follow.  Research is being conducted to determine the potential of surface and ground water contamination from the agricultural areas to lakes and rivers in the area.  Visitors from the city can see natural habitat and farming activities co-existing in a compatible environment.  One biosphere visited near Dessau had the largest indigenous beaver population in Europe.  This area had been polluted by sulfur emissions from several lignite power generation plants in the area.

Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Jena, and the medieval town of Quedlingburg all showed an on-going extensive effort to restore and renovate beautiful old buildings.  Many of the buildings in the cities and on the farms had deteriorated during the years of occupation.  Germany is making an impressive effort to rebuild road systems and repair public and private buildings in the cities.  Many of the buildings on the farms are not being used and continue to deteriorate or are being razed because there is no need for them or repair costs would be too great.

Soil and water conservation does not have a specific institute nor is it a major portion of the divisions within the Federal or State Agricultural Institutes and, therefore, tends to receive secondary emphasis.  Without a formal structure to disseminate soil and water conservation practice technical information, wide-spread adoption of such practices would be expected to be low.


Future scientific and technical exchanges between the U.S. and Eastern Germany would benefit both countries.

U.S. to Germany

  • Dairy mechanization
  • Manure management and nitrogen utilization
  • Nutrient management
  • Crop rotations
  • Biospheres

Germany to the U.S.

  • Precision farming
  • Structure for disseminating technical information on soil and water conservation
  • Erosion control -- High residue management systems--environmental benefits, seed  placement, straw spreading equipment, and planter attachments.
  • Contour and wind strip cropping/buffer strips/filter strips

Authors:  David L. Schertz (retired), National Agronomist, Ecological Sciences Division, NRCS, Washington, D.C. and Norman R. Kempf (retired), Resource Conservationist, Northern Plains Region, NRCS, Lincoln, Nebraska

Editor:  Gail C. Roane (retired), International Programs Division