First the bad news: The asparagus season 2021 is starting at unusually high prices.
20 to 25 euros per kilo are not uncommon.
"German asparagus is currently expensive," says Ursula Schockemöhle from AMI.
Last year, the maximum prices at the beginning of the season were usually six to seven euros lower.
The good news: This year, too, the finest of all vegetables will foreseeably get cheaper the further the season progresses.
At the end of the season - traditionally Midsummer Day on June 24th - the Bavarian Farmers' Association, for example, reported prices from 9.40 euros per kilo for so-called class 1 asparagus and from six euros for class 2 goods, although the classification was lower nutritional qualities are more important than color, diameter and how straight or crooked the bars are.
Those who place less value on the external appearance can use soup or broken asparagus and buy much cheaper again.
"This asparagus is completely sufficient for salads, soups and ragouts," assures the Federal Center for Nutrition.
There are a number of reasons for the high starting level this year.
The supply situation is less comfortable than usual at this time of the year.
In Spain and Greece, important supplier countries in the early season, there has been a lot of bad weather so far, according to Schockemöhle.
Deliveries from Holland were also very limited.
The first German asparagus on a weekly market: Traditionally it is not exactly cheap, but this year it is a bit more expensive
Source: picture alliance / Eibner-Presse
In Germany there are only a few asparagus pickers out in the fields, whereby either locations that are particularly favored by nature or complex technology help to move the start of the season two or three weeks forward.
On a few hundred hectares, asparagus grows under foil in heated floors.
In the Rhineland, for example, swamp water with a temperature of more than 20 degrees, which is already produced when draining lignite opencast mines, is passed through hoses laid in the ground.
Most important outdoor vegetables
But these are exceptions.
In most fields, asparagus only grows protected under sheeting - with the black side up if the soil is too cold and the sun is supposed to warm it, with the white side up to keep too much heat from the soil and the precious asparagus plants .
The harvest season began a few days ago in southern Germany this year, and in the north it is expected to start between mid-April and the end of April.
Growing remains a profitable business for growers.
Mathematically, every German consumes an average of 1.7 kilos of asparagus, and the trend is rising slightly.
Last year, around 1,600 growers expanded the area on which asparagus grows by 500 to 22,500 hectares and brought in a harvest of 117,000 tons.
"This means that asparagus is the number 1 outdoor vegetable in Germany in terms of the area under cultivation," stated the German Farmers' Association (DBV).
When it comes to cultivation area, Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia are the front runners with almost 4,000 hectares each and Lower Saxony with 4,800 hectares.
A total of 85 percent of the asparagus consumed in Germany comes from Germany - a high level of self-sufficiency.
But this year, the producers are also plagued by concerns despite the pleasingly high price level.
This includes the uncertainty about when and to what extent the catering trade will be allowed to reopen.
The menu classic in restaurants with potatoes, ham and hollandaise sauce, as well as endless variations with white, green and purple sticks, are important sales channels for German asparagus farmers.
If the gastronomy season were to be completely canceled, as in the previous year, it would be bitter for the producers.
The issue of a shortage of harvest workers, which attracted a lot of attention in the early Corona phase a year ago, is also still on the agenda.
“The tension can be clearly felt on the farms: Will all harvest workers be able to travel overland?
Will there be some who prefer to stay in their own country due to the increasing number of infections?
How will the virus variants spread? ”Asked the Association of South German Asparagus and Strawberry Growers (VSSE) worried these days.
According to the union, an average of around 280,000 harvest workers work in Germany each year.
They prick asparagus, harvest strawberries and cucumbers, do the grape harvest and do many other jobs.
For the producers, the strengths from Eastern Europe are indispensable.
"Without this support we would not be able to supply our population with fresh, local food, not even with the beloved asparagus," said farmer president Joachim Rukwied.
5000 Georgians for the asparagus harvest
But fewer workers than before are coming from traditional countries of origin such as Poland and Romania, and travel restrictions in the course of fighting the pandemic are making the situation even more difficult.
The Federal Ministry of Labor and the Federal Employment Agency are therefore planning to use around 5,000 Georgians for the asparagus harvest for the first time this spring.
In addition, the foreign seasonal workers are allowed to work longer than normal in Germany without being socially insured themselves.
Originally, the farmers wanted 115 days instead of the normally applicable upper limit of 70 days.
In the end, the federal cabinet decided last week to compromise a deadline of 102 days.
Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) argues that the extension will help ensure that the population is supplied with local food.
The Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt trade union (IG BAU) nevertheless strongly criticizes the plan.
"Since you will probably no longer find what you are looking for in the EU for back-breaking work, you are now getting workers from a third country in conjunction with agricultural employers," rumored the union's deputy head of agriculture, Harald Schaum: "And the 'best' is, they also have to pay for their return flights themselves. "
This is "state-decreed social dumping".
IG BAU is also resisting the extension of the working hours for seasonal workers.
"If foreign seasonal workers are allowed to stay longer in the company, it reduces staff turnover and mobility - it helps to fight the pandemic," says Klöckner.
However, the expansion is "an exception due to the pandemic," which should not become a permanent rule.
In addition, the companies ensured that the seasonal workers employed without insurance had adequate health insurance through private harvest helper insurance, said Thomas Becker, head of the working group of horticultural employers' associations.
If the asparagus harvest is brought in according to plan despite the obstacles, consumers can look forward to high-quality vegetables this year.
"The cold in February reached the dam and had a positive effect on the asparagus," said VSSE asparagus expert Ludger Aldenhoff: "We can count on good quality asparagus." Another piece of good news.
The asparagus season has started
Thanks to record temperatures and record hours of sunshine at the end of March, the asparagus season has started.
The asparagus farmers were better prepared for the Corona situation this year.
The dry weather of the past few years is bothering them.
Source: WORLD / Raphael Knop