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FARMING

Dairy farms under threat as milk prices slide

The vice president of the National Union of Farmers (DBV), Udo Folgart, warned on Sunday that a fifth of all diary farms in Germany are threatened with closure on account of tumbling milk prices.

Dairy farms under threat as milk prices slide
Photo: DPA

“We reckon that in 20 percent of cases, we have acute payment difficulties,” Folgart told news agency DPA. “Even the most well-secured dairy farms, whether big or small, cannot survive if they receive just €0.20 or below €0.20 per litre,” he said.

Many farmers across Europe are currently protesting the falling cost of food, and Germany’s 90,000 dairy farmers are seen as particularly vulnerable to the price cuts. Berlin-based daily TAZ reported earlier this week that dairy farmers need at least €0.40 to make the business profitable.

Around 6,000 dairy farmers plan to protest the plight of farmers and demand state aid on Monday with a traditional procession on tractors to the Victory Column in Berlin. German Federal Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner is expected to take part in the protest.

Head of the DBV Gerd Sonnleitner has called for drastic cuts in agricultural diesel taxes.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited a dairy farm earlier this week in Lower Saxony, is in favour of the tax cut.

But her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, are against the move in light of the deep recession. The German cabinet has already agreed on exempting €350 per year on diesel taxes. But the DBV says the cuts aren’t enough.

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FARMING

Chilly weather leads to soaring asparagus prices in Germany

Every year the Germans seem to be driven wild by an unlikely hero: white asparagus. But this year, the cold and damp spring means customers have had to fork out a bit more to get their hands on some stalks of this ‘edible ivory’.

Chilly weather leads to soaring asparagus prices in Germany
A Spargel farmer hands a batch to a customer in Bickenbach, Hesse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

It is now more than halfway through Germany’s famous asparagus season, which traditionally ends on June 24th, also known as Spargelsilvester (Asparagus New Year). However, poor weather means this year’s harvest has already been compromised.

The main reason for the low yield was the cold start to the year. “When there is no sun, the ground doesn’t warm up” explained Simon Schumacher, the spokesperson for the Asparagus and Strawberry Farmers’ Association of Southern Germany.

According to Franziska Rintisch, the head of the Franconian Union of Asparagus Producers,  “if we didn’t have polytunnels, there would be almost no asparagus yield”. 

Without warm earth, the asparagus simply will not grow. At the halfway point of the season, this means supply of Germany’s precious crop is limited and prices are on the rise. 

At the moment, a kilogram of white asparagus will cost you between €12 and €14 in the local supermarket. For the good stuff, or Sonntagsspargel, Schumacher says you’ll be down an additional €2 or €3 per kilo. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Spargelzeit

Those who can live with imperfect asparagus, meaning heads that are broken or not perfectly white, can get their hands on it for a much lower price, especially from direct sellers. 

There is still about a month to go until Spargelsilvester on June 24th, when the season traditionally comes to an end. Up until now, the majority of growers have not been too disappointed with how the season has played out. 

READ ALSO: Only in Germany: McDonald’s begins offering ‘Spargel Burger’

The weather has been somewhat of a double-edged sword. “It feels as if we’re in the middle of the fifth wave of cold weather” complained Fred Eickhorst of the Association of Asparagus and Berry Growers of Lower Saxony. The chilly start to the year actually meant that the season began later than normal, which Eickhorst says explains the low yield up until now. 

“The amount is not what we would wish for, but the higher market price makes up for it”. 

Growers around the country echo these views. “We are content,” said Petra Högl of the Abensberg Association of Growers of High Quality Asparagus. 

Anke Knaup of the Lippe Society of Asparagus Growers even went as far to say that she is “very content”. 

A basket of Spargel in Kutzleben, Thuringia marked the start of this year’s season on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

Home-cooked Spargel

She notes a further advantage of the weather: as people are not having as many barbecues, more asparagus is being cooked at home. All in all, the demand has been relatively high, although the hospitality industry has played a smaller role this year. 

In 2020, growers harvested 117,563 tons of white asparagus, less than in the four years before that. During the pandemic, many farmers struggled to recruit enough pickers to help with the spring harvest, as many of these workers would normally come from abroad. This has been less of an issue in 2021, suggest the growers’ unions. 

The effort made by seasonal workers was certainly made greater by Covid-19 hygiene measures. According to Peter Strobl of the Southern Bavarian Association of Asparagus Growers, the measures meant that farmers encountered around €1,000 in extra costs per seasonal worker. 

The number of asparagus farms has been sinking year on year, with 1,598 now operating. In total, white asparagus is grown on almost 25,900 hectares across the country. 

Farmers differentiate late varieties of asparagus from the earlier crop, which can be harvested from the end of March until May. Harvest of the late varieties generally begins towards the end of May. 

The switch from early to late varieties can be really great for consumers, as at this point the harvest will often overlap, meaning the supply is much higher and the price of asparagus goes down. 

The slow growth this year may actually be a good thing. “It means the asparagus can grow evenly” says Schumacher, meaning the taste is better.  

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