Agriculture is important for the country's food security and also a provider of jobs. It produces about DM84 billion worth of goods annually and purchases goods for around DM52 billion. Over 80 percent of Germany's land is used for agriculture and forestry. Like other sectors of the economy, it has undergone profound structural changes in the second half of the 20th century. In the western states, the number of farms decreased dramatically between 1949 and 1997 as machines gradually replaced human workers, and productivity increased. In 1950 1 farm worker produced food for 10 people; by 1996 1 farm worker produced food for 108 people. Attracted by a better income, many farmers left agriculture for the industrial and service sectors. Family farms predominate in Germany's old western states, and in 1997, 87 percent of all farmers in western Germany worked on fewer than 124 acres. Individual farm enterprises have also gained ground in the east: in 1997 they accounted for 80 percent of agricultural output from the eastern states, while working on only slightly more than 20 percent of the agricultural land available in the east.
Chief agricultural products include milk, pork, beef, poultry, cereals, potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbages, and sugar beets. In some regions wine, fruits, and vegetables, and other horticultural products play an important role. Agricultural products vary from region to region. In the flat terrain of northern Germany and especially in the eastern portions, cereals and sugar beets are grown. Elsewhere, on more hilly terrain, and even on mountainous land, farmers produce vegetables, milk, pork, or beef. Fruit orchards and vegetable farms surround almost all large cities. River valleys in southern and western Germany along the Rhine and the Main, are covered with vineyards. German beer is world-renowned and is produced mainly, but not exclusively, in Bavaria. Germany has a high level of exports of farm products: in 1997, its exports had a total worth of DM42 billion. Agricultural imports amounted to DM72 billion, making Germany the world's largest importer of farm products.
Important areas of German agricultural policy have transferred to the European Union, particularly in market and price policy, foreign trade policy, and structural policy. EU agricultural reforms in 1992 cut market price supports, replacing artificial prices with government subsidies, and put stricter controls on output volume. Through the reduction of price supports and through additional measures, the reforms promoted more effective farming methods and more ecologically safe agricultural production. The federal and state governments, in their turn, provided financial assistance for agricultural development, land consolidation, village renewal, and construction of country roads. Special funds were available for disadvantaged areas where agriculture was an important economic and social factor. The government's requirements of good agricultural practice required that fertilization and plant protection did not exceed an established maximum, and farmers who used environmentally friendly farming methods received financial compensation in recognition of their environmental policy.