Host Nation Update, Jan.12, 2024
The Situation of Farmers: The Role of Supermarkets and Consumers. For several weeks, farmers in Baden-Württemberg and across Germany have been protesting against the government’s austerity plans.
How difficult is their situation, and what influence do we, as customers, have?
Since Monday, many farmers in Baden-Württemberg have been participating in the nationwide protest week organized by the Farmers’ Association against the austerity policies of the federal government. With tractor convoys, roadblocks, and rallies, they are expressing their discontent. Farmers have been taking to the streets since mid-December when the government presented its cutback plans. Even the partial withdrawal of the cuts has not appeased the mood. Joachim Rukwied, the German and Baden-Württemberg president of the Farmers’ Association, speaks of a “flawed compromise.” At first glance, the protests of farmers seem to revolve solely around the recent plans. “These cuts have now pushed the barrel of discontent to overflow,” said Enno Bahrs, Professor of Agricultural Business Management at the University of Hohenheim, to SWR. For several years, farmers have been confronted with regulatory requirements and resulting cost increases. Now, the government wants to cut their subsidies as well. Food prices rise – Producer prices fall. The problem for farmers is that they can hardly pass on these higher costs to the market. They are getting less for their products than before, while food prices are rising significantly.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, food prices in October 2023 were over six percent higher than in October 2022, while producer prices for agricultural products were 14.5 percent lower. However, the situation varies greatly depending on the product. The price decline was particularly pronounced for grain, cucumbers, or milk. In contrast, producers received significantly more for apples, eggs, or potatoes in October 2023 than the previous year.
What role do discounters play? A recent study commissioned by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Agriculture also revealed that the gap between the price demanded by producers and the price in retail has widened in recent years. The concentrated market power of a few supermarket and discount chains is often cited as the reason farmers cannot enforce higher prices. This was also hinted at by BW Agriculture Minister Peter Hauk (CDU) when presenting the study: There is an oligopoly in trade that needs to be thoroughly investigated. However, Sebastian Hess, Professor of Agricultural Markets at the University of Hohenheim, believes that focusing solely on discounters oversimplifies the situation. “Supermarkets and discounters certainly have some negotiating power, but they alone do not determine the prices that producers receive for their products,” Hess said in an interview with SWR.
A crucial effect, often underestimated, is the price development in the world markets, which affects producer prices within the EU, including Germany, Hess added. This is also because Germany is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of agricultural products, behind the USA, the Netherlands, and Brazil. Pressure to produce cheaply is increasing from the world market. Agricultural expert: Consumers educated to be frugal Nevertheless, only four corporations – Edeka, Rewe, Schwarz Group (Lidl, Kaufland), and Aldi – largely dominate the food retail sector in Germany, with three-quarters of the market in their hands. The Federal Cartel Office also views this development critically. Hess particularly emphasizes the role of large retail chains in valuing food. For many years, discounters in Germany have educated consumers to be frugal with food, the expert believes. “In this country, an expensive grill is bought, and then cheap meat is put on it. It’s also a matter of mentality.” Therefore, it is important to promote a change in thinking in the population and to convey the value of healthy nutrition and high-quality products, even in schools.
According to the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food, Germans spent an average of only 11.5 percent of their money on food in 2022. This is one of the lowest values in the EU. Only in Ireland, Luxembourg, and Austria do people spend proportionally less on food. For comparison, in Italy, it was 14.4 percent, in France 13.3 percent. Young farmers demand “fair producer prices” It is clear that to survive, agriculture is largely dependent on state financial support – something it may not necessarily want. “Young farmers do not want to depend on state funds and demonstrate for the preservation of subsidies,” said the Young Agricultural Working Group regarding the current protest week. “But without proper conditions where fair producer prices can be achieved and the negotiating power of Aldi, Edeka, and Co is limited, there are no real alternatives.”
Hess counters that farmers have, at least in part, the power to increase their pressure. He points to the situation in Baden-Württemberg, where many farmers are organized cooperatively and have control over the first processing stage. “However, some farmers do not see that they can contribute to their cooperatives themselves and that there are many opportunities to improve market position through cooperation.”
Farmers contribute significantly to society The desire of young farmers for “fair producer prices” and a detachment from subsidies is considered utopian by Hess. “A largely unregulated agriculture would not be compatible with the societal expectations placed on it and the rightly established standards in Europe,” Hess said. Additionally, farmers provide important societal contributions such as the maintenance of cultural landscapes and social functions in rural areas, which can hardly be adequately reflected in market prices for food.
There are meaningful investment subsidies and compensation payments meant to offset production and environmental requirements. “Whether, how many, and for what the agricultural sector receives state transfers cannot be separated from the question of what form of agriculture we want in Europe,” said Hess.
How consumers can support local agriculture in this regard, consumers also have an impact. They can support local farmers and sustainable agriculture if they wish by buying directly from producers and supporting regional cycles, such as at the weekly market or farm store. Although it is more expensive than in discounters, it is worth asking: How do I want to eat, what quality should production and products have, and what am I willing to spend? Choosing seasonal products allows customers to control the amount they spend.
This also includes avoiding processed products – such as ready-made potato gratin – and instead cooking a dish from basic ingredients. Because, in the first place, it is the food industry that profits from processed foods. (SWR Aktuell 12 January 2024, Mathias Breitinger).
GDL Strike: Restrictions in Rail Traffic Possible Until Saturday.
Even on the last scheduled day of the strike, train services are heavily affected. The railway expects further delays and cancellations after the end of the strike. New strikes are not ruled out.
On Friday morning, the strike by the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union (GDL) continued to cause significant disruptions to train traffic in Baden-Württemberg. The emergency timetable with a greatly reduced service has been implemented again, said a spokesperson for Deutsche Bahn on Friday morning. In long-distance travel, around 20 percent of trains are operating. There is also a significantly reduced service in regional transport. The railway asks all travelers to check in advance for train connections and cancellations. Train cancellations and delays possible until Saturday Even after the end of the GDL strike on Friday evening, the railway anticipates delays and cancellations. According to the information, long-distance and regional traffic will initially continue to operate according to the emergency timetable. In regional transport, the situation is different – some suburban trains are expected to resume their regular schedule shortly after the end of the strike at 6 p.m. on Friday.
From Saturday morning, the railway plans to return to normal service in passenger traffic. “We are preparing for a smooth start of operations,” said the spokesperson. Nevertheless, there may be individual deviations. GDL Chief: Strikes should last a maximum of five days The GDL union called for the strike. “Participation is higher than ever before; we are thrilled with the numbers,” said a GDL spokesperson on Friday morning. Following significant approval in a ballot among union members, Weselsky can now call for long, possibly indefinite strikes repeatedly if necessary. However, the GDL chief had announced in December that the strikes should last a maximum of five days each.
At the core of the wage dispute is the union’s demand for a reduction in the weekly working hours for shift workers from 38 to 35 hours with full pay. The railway rejects this and, in its latest offer, promised the expansion of existing working hour choice models. Employees can opt for fewer weekly working hours but must accept financial losses in return. The GDL rejects this offer.
The GDL now expects a new offer from the railway. Otherwise, according to GDL Chief Weselsky, the train drivers would strike again. (12 January, SWR Aktuekk)
Traditional Faschingparade on Tuesday, 13 February in downtown Stuttgart
The carnival calendar is based on Easter – which in turn is calculated according to the lunar calendar. Easter Sunday always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the beginning of spring.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the pre-Easter fasting period – and therefore the end of Shrove Tuesday. The day is always 46 days before Easter Sunday. For this reason, Shrove Tuesday can sometimes be earlier or later in the year.
Women’s Carnival — In southern Germany, the term “Weiberfasnacht” or “Weiberfasnet” is used; the terms “Weiberfastnacht” or “Altweiberfasching” are also common in the region. In the Swabian-Alemannic tradition, the day is known as “Schmotziger Donnerstag”. Here, too, there are regional variations. Women are then traditionally allowed to cut off the men’s ties. This year, Women’s Carnival falls on Thursday, February 8.
Rose Monday is known throughout Germany because the big parades in the carnival strongholds such as Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf take place on this day. The imaginative floats, which often refer to (world) political events, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. This year, Rose Monday is on February 12.
On Shrove Tuesday, February 13, The Möbelwagen society, with around 420 members, will once again organize the traditional parade through the Stuttgart inner city starting at approx. 1330 hrs. followed by a big Faschingsparty at the Karlsplatz (downtown) (Stuttgarter Nachrichten)
Fasnet highlights between the Neckar, Alb and Black Forest
The carnival year is marked by “100 years of the Association of Swabian-Alemannic Carnival Guilds”. This and other highlights of Fasnet 2024:
Narri, Narro! The first big carnival weekend from 12-14 January attracts visitors to the Kleiner Heuberg (Zollernalbkreis), where the Weilen unter den Rinnen carnival guild is celebrating its 60th anniversary – with a night parade on Friday from 7 pm and a carnival meeting on Sunday at 1.30 pm.
100 years of the Aistaig Fools’ Guild
The six guilds of the Oberer Neckar Fools’ Ring will meet on January 13 for a night parade to mark the 100th anniversary of the Aistaig Fools’ Guild (Rottweil district). It starts at 7 pm. On January 14, numerous guilds are invited to the anniversary parade at 1.30 pm.
The Kübele-Hannes Lautlingen fools’ guild is organizing the children’s ring meeting of the Zollernalb fools’ friendship ring for its 25th anniversary on 20.1. with a children’s ring parade at 1.30 pm and an anniversary parade at 6.30 pm.
Stoibrecher from Horb (Freudenstadt district).
Meeting of Heuberg, Schwarzwald, Alb and Baar
Some guilds of the Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg Fools’ Friendship Ring can be seen on 26.1. in Wellendingen at the customs evening in the marquee, while on 28.1. they will be guests at the ring parade at 1 pm as part of their own ring meeting (26.-28.1.) in Lauterbach (Rottweil district).On the same weekend, the Burgnarren Neufra / Hohenzollern (Sigmaringen district) invite the Alb-Lauchert fool’s ring to their 40th anniversary twilight parade on January 27 at 3.40 pm, followed by a fool’s night.
In Horb am Neckar (Freudenstadt district), the 100th anniversary of the Horb Fools’ Guild will be celebrated on the last weekend in January with the Ring Meeting of the Neckar-Gäu Fools’ Friendship Ring. The big ring parade starts on January 28 at 1.30 pm, the SWR broadcasts the parade live on television.
The carnival highlight of the regional carnival meeting will be the big carnival parade on Sunday, January 21, which will wind its way through Neckarweihingen. Around 5,000 active participants have announced their attendance and Stefan Diefenbach, guild master of the Neckarweihingen carnival guild, is expecting between 7,000 and 7,500 visitors – depending on the weather (SWR, January 11, 2024).