When will the first asparagus be available? Brandenburg’s asparagus farmers like to avoid questions like this. Most people don’t think much of forecasts. Because sometimes things turn out very differently. But the farmers agree on one thing: at Easter there will only be a little bit of asparagus, the real harvest will start later.
“The first asparagus will probably be available at Easter. But we expect that larger quantities can only be harvested afterwards. We just need more hours of sunshine,” says Marc Hoffmann from Spargelgut Diedersdorf in the Teltow-Fläming district, south of Berlin. The 42-year-old joined the family business more than 20 years ago. It is important to him to remain optimistic despite all the problems.
Gloomy forecasts for asparagus
Increased minimum wage and higher energy prices are causing problems for the asparagus farms in Brandenburg. Last year the mood on many farms was bad. Again and again, growers spoke of being unable to bear the costs and reducing or even giving up the cultivation areas.
This has apparently not come true – at least not yet: According to the Beelitzer Spargelverein, no company is known that has stopped growing asparagus or reduced the area. Official figures for this year’s acreage are not yet available. However, the Association of East German Asparagus and Berry Fruit Farmers still assumes that the area in Brandenburg will decrease.
On the Herrenhoelzer estate in Bensdorf, not far from the state border with Saxony, there will not be any reduction in size this year, but there will be no more planting on 30 to 40 of the approximately 120 hectares of asparagus cultivation area. The effects will only be felt in the next few years. “Customers only notice when it’s too late,” says production manager Marco Kriewitz. “Then they can buy the sprayed and unripe goods from the importing countries.” The standards that are set for German asparagus do not apply there.
This year is crucial.
Juergen Jakobschairman of the Beelitz asparagus association
“There are dark clouds in the sky,” says the chairman of the Beelitz asparagus association, Jürgen Jakobs. When it comes to fertilizer costs, prices have exploded. The wage costs have risen sharply to twelve euros in the past year due to the increase in the minimum wage. “That really hits the office.” The companies would not pass on the increased prices to the customers and were therefore left with losses. Jakobs estimates that asparagus cultivation in Brandenburg will be reduced by around 25 percent in the coming years. “This year is crucial.”
Because: It depends on how consumers behave, whether their reluctance to buy from last year is disappearing, and whether they are reaching for regional asparagus and are willing to spend a few euros more than for the cheaper competition from abroad . “The consumers have it in their hands,” says the asparagus farmer. Because in the supermarket you will again find regional asparagus and those from abroad. Retailers have already signaled that they will switch to imports from Italy and Peru, for example.
Farmers rely on direct marketing
Frank Saalfeld, Managing Director of the Association of East German Asparagus and Berry Fruit Growers, complains that relying on regionality is just “an alibi” for the supermarket chains. Asparagus from the region is only used when there is nothing left.
Those farmers who could afford it and sold a lot directly to customers through their farm shops and stalls considered reducing their retail space in order to no longer be exposed to price dumping. According to the feedback from the asparagus farms, there are enough harvest helpers. Due to increased personnel costs, some farms want to get by with fewer workers.
According to the asparagus company Jakobs, it has invested significantly for its customers. The sales room has been embellished, as has the farmer’s barn in Schäpe in Beelitz. Jakobs thinks it would be wrong not to invest, despite the bleak prospects.
Spargelgut Diedersdorf supplies Edeka and Rewe stores in the region directly. That is an advantage, says Hoffmann, since they are more likely to use regional products than those who get their goods delivered from the head office. Hoffmann is certain that people are willing to pay more for high-quality asparagus. “The asparagus from Peru has been on the road for a long time. Here it is stung in the morning and is at best in the shop the same day. You can taste the difference.”
There is something for everyone in terms of price. Initially, a kilogram of asparagus cost 8 to 15 euros, depending on how it looks. After Easter, it quickly becomes cheaper, then a kilogram costs four to twelve euros. “It doesn’t always have to be the straight, most beautiful pole,” says Hoffmann. A slightly thinner, shorter one tastes just as good, but is cheaper.
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