UPDATE 1-Merkel's conservatives replace farm minister who quit over leak

Mon Feb 17, 2014 7:31am EST

BERLIN Feb 17 (Reuters) - Angela Merkel's Bavarian allies chose defence expert Christian Schmidt on Monday to replace the agriculture minister who quit the German chancellor's cabinet after leaking information about a lawmaker being investigated for possessing child pornography.

Schmidt comes from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, as does Hans-Peter Friedrich, who was forced to resign last Friday for leaking the information when he was interior minister.

German head of state Joachim Gauck will swear in the new minister later on Monday, the president's office said.

Schmidt, 56, was a deputy defence minister from 2005 to the end of last year, when he was named deputy development minister in the new coalition government between the conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD).

Schmidt is a lawyer and has not held previous government posts related to farming, although part of his constituency in the southern state of Bavaria is rural.

Among the important issues the new minister will have to address will be whether Germany should permit cultivation of crops with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

The coalition formed in December has been unable to agree on the issue. Former German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner took a tough stand against GM cultivation but she has left the government to return to local politics.

On Feb. 5, the government decided to abstain in a European Union vote to approve cultivation of a new type of GMO maize.

The new minister must also settle how Germany implements the next round of EU farm subsidy reform, in which subsidies will be switched away from large farms towards smaller farms and to environmental protection schemes. Germany has many large farms, especially in the east.

German milk farmers are exceeding their EU milk production quota.

The new minister will also face pressure to reduce blanket cultivation of maize in parts of the country for biofuel production.