indiana Prairie Farmer Logo

A glimpse of agriculture in Europe

Commentary: Here are observations made about European agriculture during a recent trip there.

Darrell Boone

May 2, 2024

3 Min Read
A wide lanscape view of a vineyard in Germany
SEEING SPECIALTY: One thing that is abundant in Europe is specialty crops. This vineyard is located on the Middle Rhine in Germany. Eileen Boone

Recently, my wife, Eileen, found a deal on a Viking Rhine River Cruise and talked me into what turned out to be a fascinating experience. But among snowcapped Alps, magnificent cathedrals, historic fortresses, canals and much more, the ag writer in me couldn’t help picking up a few impressions about agriculture and farmers in Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Here are just a few highlights.

Proposition, Swiss-style. Our tour started in Basel, Switzerland, where our guide said their government is more of a pure democracy than the U.S. One example: The whole country gets to vote on whether farmers can dehorn their cattle.

“What business is that of anyone except the farmer?” I asked. She replied that it’s an animal rights issue, but the federal government will have the final word, and she thinks it might ultimately side with the farmers.

What urban sprawl? On our excursion around Mannheim, Germany, we learned that the country has 83 million people squeezed into an area the size of Montana. Our guide said that while there’s a real housing crunch there, land use policy forbids using farmland for housing development. We heard more than once about typical apartments for a family being around 50 square meters, or about 540 square feet. That doesn’t allow much room to have friends over, so they eat out a lot.

In the Netherlands, they’re planning to solve their housing issues by doing away with 40% of their farmland, which “will also help the environment by getting rid of lots of cows.”

Deere here. As our bus went through the German countryside, I was surprised by the number of John Deere tractors. We learned that Mannheim has a Deere factory that produces midsize tractors, like 5000 and 6000 series.

“The average German farm is 150 acres, so they don’t make the really big ones here,” our guide said. I did a little homework and found that many of those tractors find their way to the U.S.

A barge carrying cars and John Deere tractors

“What big teeth you have.” Mannheim is also near Germany’s Black Forest, land of Little Red Riding Hood. Our guide said their equivalent of our Department of Natural Resources had reintroduced wolves to the area a few years ago. Initially it went well, but soon the newbies developed a taste for lamb — surprise! — which has not gone over well with farmers. Also, wild boars are a problem in Germany and the Netherlands.

Tulips, anyone? Specialty crops appear to be big in Europe. Some highlights were white asparagus, which is apparently a delicacy in both Germany and France; tulips in the Netherlands; and lots of vineyards on the steep slopes bordering the Middle Rhine, where grapes get more sun.

Got milk! We saw a few of what appeared to be small, family-owned dairy farms in Germany. I never saw any cows, but the barns had “big marshmallow bales” around them and were surrounded by pastures, so I figured there had to be cows inside.

Had it! We were there during the farmer strikes in Europe. Our guide said it was due to the government cutting back a diesel subsidy, but as I read about it, there was a lot more to it. In a nutshell, sounds like they were beyond fed up with “government overreach.”

No Ram. In Cologne, Germany, our guide said that the population is so dense that having a car there is a hassle, pickups are unheard of, and almost everyone — as was the case in most places we visited — uses bicycles. He told his American visitors his dream was “to be able to drive a Dodge Ram down the Autobahn, just one time.”

About the Author(s)

Darrell Boone

Darrell Boone writes from Wabash, Ind.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like