German Farmers Protest Suffocating Policies

Published online: Feb 02, 2024 Articles Jana Gabert,
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German farmers have flocked to city centers with their trucks and tractors over the last month to protest the harmful agricultural policies with its escalating bureaucracy that have become an unbearable burden on agriculture.

I’m one of them.

Nine colleagues and I drove three tractors from our farm to the famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. We joined thousands of others in the German capital and around the nation. Our goal is to call attention to our plight—and to make sure that the voice of farmers is finally heard in the corridors of power and among the public.

We’d much rather be back on our farm, producing the food that Germans need. For us, that means milking nearly 1,000 dairy cows and feeding them with a diverse range of crops that we grow in our own fields.

This is our vocation—not the politics of protest.

But enough is enough.

Now we’ve made the news—and some people don’t like it. One of them is the journalist Paul Hockenos. The headline to his recent article on the website of Foreign Affairs magazine says it all: “Germany’s Farmers Have No Reason To Complain.”

He and his comrades want us to remain stoic and continue as we have in the past to accept thousands of cuts with only a slight complaint.

Much of the rest of the media doesn’t even try to understand what motivates us. Their coverage of our protests would have you believe that we just want handouts from the government—and that our major complaint involves the potential loss of a diesel-fuel tax refund.

This is a dodge. The real problem is an increasingly restrictive agenda and burdens that make it difficult to farm and almost no economic sense. The whole thing culminates in a bureaucracy that can no longer be interpreted as a lean administrative process, but rather as a punishment.

The government’s irresponsibility came into plain sight last fall because of a court ruling, as Joseph C. Sternberg of the Wall Street Journal explained, “Berlin is in the grip of a budget crisis after the federal constitutional court in November ruled that politicians’ favorite gimmick for funding the country’s ruinously expensive energy transition violates Germany’s constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.”

This crisis affects us all—and farmers are willing to do our part. That includes making sacrifices.

Yet we want politicians to acknowledge and appreciate that they’ve already forced farmers to sacrifice again and again. In a misbegotten effort to discourage traditional fuels, they’ve driven up the price of diesel. Additionally they’ve imposed strict regulations on the use of fertilizer and crop-protection tools. Animal farming is now portrayed more as harmful, rather than an important part of the food supply.

The bottom line is that they’ve made it a lot harder for farmers to farm. They’ve chosen to treat us as problems rather than partners. And the more we’ve tried to meet their demands, the more they’ve asked us to give up.

The ruthless cycle never stops. Hockenos of Foreign Affairs apparently wants the suffering to continue. Berlin’s latest requirement, he insists, is not an “existential threat” because it “would pinch only those small farms already teetering.”

How comforting for small farmers.

Germany’s agricultural sector has met the carbon-emission goals set for us. What’s more, we’ve taken additional steps to become more sustainable.

On our dairy farm, for example, we’ve boosted biodiversity with flowering areas and raw soil habitat, plus letting some fields lie fallow. Our milk production is climate friendly because we grow our own feed rather than have it transported from elsewhere, use native forage plants, and focus on lifetime yield rather than peak performance.

Much of this is the result of our own initiative, including a determination to meet the expectations of consumers.

The straw that broke the camel’s back and took us to the streets have been plans to raise more than 1 billion euros by eliminating a tax refund that will make farmers pay even more for diesel and by hiking the taxes we pay for vehicle registrations. These are not subsidies.

The protests have an impact, but at the same time they also show that a general understanding of the problems of agriculture has not yet reached politics. These proposals are yet another shortsighted attempt to deny the obvious.

The threat to Germany’s wellbeing doesn’t come from farmers who are working hard to grow the food we need. It comes from a politics that has distanced itself from the people. What is needed is a politics that listens and has in mind the prosperity of everyone rather than client groups.

There are opportunities to take action­–the protests have already opened the first doors.