Beer and Bockwurst - But no Biotech

Farmers eye upgrades at Europe's biggest equipment show

Beer and Bockwurst – but no Biotech Farmers eye upgrades at Europe's biggest equipment show

Hanover, Germany - Three days of dreary cold and rain in Northern Germany could not squelch my enthusiasm once I arrived at the massive exhibition hall housing this year's Agritechnica, Europe's biggest farm machinery show.

For the thousands of farmers who ventured here Nov. 8-14, it was Christmas come early – as long as you had a fat checkbook to go with your misguided belief that you just can't live without that shiny new $182,000 tractor parked over at the Claas exhibit. Hey, it's got your name on it, Deiter!

Now, don't get me wrong. Our Farm Progress Show is still the epicenter of farm equipment exhibitions. FPS may not have as many exhibits as Agritechnica's 2,300 companies from 46 countries. But FPS drew people from 58 countries and 40-plus states this fall, so we're able to attract an international crowd even to tiny Decatur, Ill. The Farm Progress Show has a 100-acre exhibit field with a 300-acre field demonstration area. It is the only place in the northern hemisphere where you can kick the tires and then go watch these machines at work in the field right next to the exhibit field. You won't get that at Agritechnica, or the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville.

Still, an equipment show in another country is good fun for many reasons. First, you get to see what passes for fair food at these exhibits. The popular choice here: Bockwurst mit kartoffelsalat – a 10-inch wiener with potato salad. Or a dry bread roll. Maybe a little mustard on the side. Why the Germans do not take the logical next step and make a wurst that actually fits inside a bun is not clear, considering this is a culture that prides itself on precision. But they make up for any culinary shortcomings by also serving beer with any meal. Even at the backroom meetings with exhibitors. Culture is a wonderful thing.

And you need to be fortified. One can grow weary trekking around the 18 exhibit halls and 320,000 square meters of space crowded with about 300,000 people over five or six days. Even the Germans were getting lost.

Despite a global financial crisis, there was a fairly happy outlook among the farmers and exhibitors I spoke to. Remember, Agritechnica takes place only every other year in one of the most protected, highly subsidized farm economies on earth. According to OECD, European farmers get 27% of farm income from government subsidies, seventh highest in the world and four times more than U.S. farmers. Recession? What recession?

What really gave the European equipment industry a shot in the arm was the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago. Those eastern European countries came into the European Union, and with taxes from rich countries flowing east, European farmers began to upgrade their businesses.

Now farmers from places like Ukraine and Poland come to Agritechnica to see what kind of tractors and combines they might find. Farms there are large-scale, much like our own. It's quite the contrast from places like Austria and Bavaria in southern Germany, where it's nearly impossible to grow a typical 30-acre farm to commercial scale.

The great irony of all this technology is that crop farmers here are at the mercy of a fearful public that has forced politicians to ban biotechnology - the most important yield-boosting tool to come along since the advent of hybrid corn.

Below are a couple more unusual pieces of equipment I ran across. Look for the technology innovation winners in your next Farm Progress publication.

Whether you need to mulch, mow, clear brush or groom your ski slopes, this is the implement for you. This PistenBully, by Paana Greentech, is used in delicate areas where wheeled vehicles just won't work, say manufacturers.

Fendt rolled out its 496-horsepower hybrid combine at Agritechnica. It includes separating systems combining conventional three-cylinder threshing system with a twin rotor separation set up.

Lord, won't you buy me, a Mercedes Benz: Yes, Mercedes has a farm implement. It is the Unimog, which can be used to haul trucks, spray crops, or pull any number of implements in the field.

Join us at the Farm Futures Management Summit, Jan 6-7, 2010. Check out details at

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