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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Agricultural: Asparagus season begins – future worries among the farmers

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Spring time is asparagus time. But the joy is muted. German growers are struggling with several problems.

After a bad year in 2022, Germany’s asparagus farmers are starting the new season with worries. The German Farmers’ Association warns that asparagus and strawberries could one day disappear from domestic fields because of cheaper foreign imports.

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“Last year, some strawberry and asparagus areas were no longer harvested,” said farmer president Joachim Rukwied when asked. “Due to the exorbitantly increased costs and cheap imports from abroad, production was simply no longer worthwhile.”

The start of the harvest is expected towards the end of March, as expert Claudio Gläßer from the Agrarmarkt-Informations-Gesellschaft (AMI) in Bonn said. “Before that, there will be no German asparagus on the market.”

The first asparagus spears of the season grow under foil in heated fields. “Whether it’s worth it for our farmers depends on the one hand on the crop yield and on the other hand on the market and price situation,” said Rukwied.

Last year, the producer associations across Germany started the season in good spirits, combined with the hope of higher prices. Instead, there were sales problems because citizens, unsettled by the war in Ukraine and inflation, saved on grocery shopping.

Area under asparagus largely remains stable

The supermarket chains increasingly imported cheaper foreign asparagus. “If dumped goods from abroad are on the shelves again, it will be difficult,” said Rukwied. “Our companies are also burdened by the increased minimum wage of 12 euros in European competition. There is a real danger that asparagus and strawberry production will disappear in Germany as a result.”

According to the Federal Statistical Office, the area under cultivation in Germany was a good 21,000 hectares last year. “We assume that the size of the asparagus cultivation area will remain largely stable,” said Rukwied.

Harvesting does not start at the same time everywhere, depending on the region and the weather. Asparagus needs warmth. “We assume that there will be asparagus at Easter, but that will be decided in the next few weeks,” said Fred Eickhorst, managing director and board spokesman of the association of asparagus and berry growers in Lower Saxony.

He assumes that the acreage could shrink this year. “I do believe that we will harvest 10 to 15 percent less area compared to last year,” said Eickhorst.

The Association of Southern German Asparagus and Strawberry Growers expects the first quantities of regional asparagus to be sold before Easter.

Around 110,300 tons of asparagus harvested

According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 110,300 tons of asparagus were harvested by 1,465 companies in Germany last year. Lower Saxony was at the top in Germany with 26,100 tons, followed by Bavaria (21,100 tons) and North Rhine-Westphalia (19,300).

Because of the rising labor costs, further mechanization of the harvest is becoming more and more of an issue for the industry, said Nils Kraushaar from the Lower Saxony Chamber of Agriculture. According to Kraushaar, the losses are still very high with the machines currently available, but the more precise harvesting robots are very expensive. The chamber is therefore working on improved cultivation methods to facilitate the use of machines.

Source: Stern

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