A primer on agricultural research in Germany

Germany is a federally structured country; the federal states are known as “Länder” (singular: Land). This has implications also for the organization of publicly funded agricultural research in Germany.

University research is under the authority of each Land. The federal government and most Länder maintain their own research institutions for policy advice, for information for extension services, and for practitioners. In several states, chambers of agriculture, funded by contributions from farmers and the state governments, also conduct agricultural research. Research institutes with a special thematic focus have mixed funding from federal and state governments and belong to one of several associations (Fraunhofer, Helmholtz, Max-Planck, Leibniz). In addition, there are other research institutes with public funding. Due to the diversity of purposes and responsibilities of DAFA members the strategies developed by DAFA can extend all the way from basic science to application in practice and society.

Member institutions of DAFA

Locations of agricultural research institutions

Funding structures

The largest funder of public research is the federal government. It is funding the research institutions within the portfolios of ministries. Similarly, the Länder fund their own research institutions, universities, and support the chambers of agriculture. Federal and state governments jointly fund research centers on specific topics and they fund the German research foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG).

Beyond basic funding for infrastructure, permanent staff, and statutory work, the institutions can apply for additional (external) funding from research programmes set up by federal and state governments, foundations, industry, EU, and other sources. Relevant foundations for agricultural researchers are Alexander von Humboldt, Robert Bosch and Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt). Companies may also buy research services from public institutions.

Project funding by the federal government, DFG und EU, 2017–2020, for agricultural and food science and related topics. (Source: DFG-Förderatlas 2021 Project funding by federal states, foundations or companies was not considered in the thematic section of DFG-Förderatlas.)

Project funding in M€/year Federal government
Funding area
Food, Agriculture, Consumer Protection
Agriculture, Forestry, Veterinary Science
Food, Agriculture and Forestry, Fisheries, Bioeconomy
Full universities and universities of applied sciences 43 36 20
Federal research institutes 16 5 14
Fraunhofer , Max-Planck, Helmholtz and Leibniz research centres 15 2 10
Other institutions 18 2 7
Total 92 44 51

Scientific staff at research institutions for agricultural, veterinary medicine, forestry and food sciences, 2022. (Source: DESTATIS Tables 21811-0005 and -0007 and 21341-0002)

Type of institution
Scientific staff (full-time equivalents)
Publicly Funded, Non-University Research Total 6382
Government institutions
Federal 2677
Länder (States) and Municipal 1514
Fraunhofer, Max-Planck, Helmholtz and Leibniz research centres 1651
Helmholtz-Centres 0
Max-Planck-Institutes 38
Fraunhofer-Institutes 397
Leibniz-Institutes 1216
Other institutions with public funding 533
Collections, Archives, Museums 7

Earlier survey of staff and funding sources

In 2005 the German Council of Science and the Humanities surveyed 90 agricultural research institutions (WR 2006).

Permanent staff in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and food sciences in 2004

Professorships Researchers
Faculties of Agriculture at full-range universities 450 835
Faculties of Agriculture at universities of applied sciences 340 60
Veterinary medicine (only animal production) at universities 30 40
Food sciences at universities 25 30
Research Centres 40 480
Federal research 10 635
State research 410
Total 895 2480

External funding [M€] in agriculture and horticulture, average of 2001-2003

Total Federal DFG EU Länder Industry
Universities 57 31% 25% 12% 13% 16%
Research Centres 20 44% 13% 13% 4% 14%
Federal Research 12 43% 9% 18% 12% 11%
State Research 12 21% 1% 15% 20% 33%
Universities of Applied Sciences 7 37% 1% 17% 27% 9%
Total 110 34% 16% 13% 13% 14%

Sources of information in English

Projects, institutions and companies with a history in agricultural research

Fisaonline.de gives you an overview of research in agricultural and food science, which is financed by public funds. The research aims and areas of the Federal Government and the Länder as well as the related research funding of the public sector are presented here.

RIsources (RI = Research Infrastructure) is a portal operated by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) containing information about scientific research infrastructures which provide researchers with resources and services for planning and implementing research projects.

Research priorities at universities and colleges

The German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) publishes a bilingual Research Map (Forschungslandkarte) that details the key research priorities of higher education institutions. The Research Map allows you to search for the research areas that are of strategic institutional importance for each institution. The research areas can be searched by subject area and by region.

Funding structures in Germany by DFG

The Funding Atlas is a series of detailed reports on key figures relating to publicly funded research in Germany published by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). The series started in 1996.

The facts and figures, compiled for the annual Brochure “Education and Research in Figures“, provide a quick overview of the education and research policy basic information. In addition to the concrete information on different education and research areas, the brochure includes also details of expenditure by the Federal and Länder governments, as well as of Germany’s position in an international comparison.

The biennial “Federal Report on Research and Innovation” is a standard reference work on the German research and innovation policy. Clearly and highly topical, it presents the different elements of the German research and innovation system, with its facts and figures. The report also takes stock of the reforms of the German research and innovation system.

Document search portal for medicine, health, nutrition, environmental and agricultural sciences

LIVIVO, the interdisciplinary search engine for life sciences, is provided by ZB MED Information Centre for Life Sciences. Scientifically relevant informations from the ZB MED subjects fields medicine, health, nutrition, environmental and agricultural sciences is bundled and provided on a standard interface for free research.

German Council for Science and the Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat)

The German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) provides advice to the German Federal Government and the State (Länder) Governments on the structure and development of higher education and research.

DAFA – German Agricultural Research Alliance

DAFA congregates the competences of the German, publicly funded agricultural research institutions. Members of DAFA are units at universities, non-university research facilities as well as federal and state research institutes and chambers of agriculture.

DAFA provides solutions for complex questions of great societal relevance and seeks to implement them into praxis. The network aims to increase the capacity and the international visibility of German agricultural research.

DAFA supports the dialogue on research policies between ministries, funding agencies, companies and our members. With our annual Strategic Forum, we address important current topics and seek to foster the capacity of agricultural research in Germany.

DAFA was established in 2011. It is funded by membership fees and a contribution by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. A governing board of seven persons, elected by the member institutions, leads the alliance.

Expert groups work on great societal challenges and propose research strategies contributing to their solution. The topics for expert groups are suggested by DAFA members or the DAFA governing board and are endorsed by the membership. All concerned stakeholders are invited to contribute to the strategies. After public presentation, drafts of the strategies undergo one or more revisions and are finally adopted by the members’ assembly.

So far, DAFA has set up six expert groups: Livestock, Legumes, Grassland, Aquaculture, Organic Food Production, Bees and Agriculture. Their strategies are published in both, English and German. Research funding programmes by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture have taken up all or parts of the strategies after additional political and administrative considerations. As a result, more cohesive research has been funded in the areas of the expert groups.

The Strategic Forum meets annually to discuss or review the structure and direction of agricultural and food research. Topics are suggested by DAFA members or the governing board. Recent topics for strategic forums, included:

  • Agricultural research across experimental farms, pilot farms, landscapes and regions
  • Changes in land use
  • Visions for agriculture in thirty years (2049)
    What would agriculture ideally look like and what does it need to get there?
  • The food of tomorrow?
    What are the challenges if production of in-vitro meat and insect proteins are scaled up?
  • Dimensions of agricultural science
    Science is more than merely research – but where is the right balance?
  • New breeding techniques
    What perspectives provide CRISPR/Cas etc. which perspectives are in stock for agriculture?
  • Big Data and management of research data
    Curse or blessing for agriculture?
  • Foresight agricultural science
    What changes do we need now for the future that we want?
  • Research infrastructures
    Large-scale sites and equipment: What do we have, what can we share, what do we need?
  • Evaluation of applied research
    Making the societal and practical impact of research count?

Contact Managing Directors

Deutsche Agrarforschungsallianz
c/o Thünen Institut
Bundesallee 50
38116 Braunschweig

© Deutsche Agrarforschungsallianz