German summer drought drains winter vegetable supply
German farmers fear customers could stand in front of empty supermarket shelves due to a summer drought which has in some cases halved yields.
The red cabbage in the hands of Friedrich von Schönberg is barely bigger than a baseball.
"Only half as big as usual, sometimes it is even smaller," says the farmer from Kerpen-Blatzheim near Cologne. White cabbage and curly kale are also smaller or drier than usual this year.
Von Schönberg suffered major losses due to this summer’s sizzling temperatures and dryness. Yields of kale - a staple side dish vegetable in Germany - were only half of their normal amount.
Throughout Germany, farmers are being left empty-handed and unable to provide produce suppliers with the their requested fruits and vegetables - or are yielding tinier, less aesthetically-appealing produce. German supermarket giant Rewe already stepped in by agreeing to stock produce with “beauty errors” on its shelves.
Now farmers are hoping for a rainy autumn in order to be able to stock supermarkets with winter produce, and without a hefty price increase.
Looking at losses
Hard hit are also produce processors - the companies behind the canned fruits and vegetables which line German supermarket shelves. Producer Stollenwerk said that farmers delivered 50 to 60 percent less to the company this year on average.
Measured against the long-term average, the loss of white cabbage is up to 40 percent in some regions, and up to 50 percent for red cabbage, according to the Federal Association of the Fruit, Vegetable and Potato Processing Industry (BOGK).
The potato harvest was also lower than last year. For the tuber fruit, Martin Umhau of the German Agricultural Society (DLG) expects a consequent price increase of 30 percent compared to the previous year.
"For the vegetable processing industry, this situation is an enormous burden,” says BOGK Managing Director Christoph Freitag. “Because the companies only received a fraction of the expected raw material.”
He’s already foreseeing the consequences in the factories: machines likely won’t be be used to capacity, and shifts could be shortened or even cut completely. Now the industry hopes that the weather will play along in the coming weeks in order to avert the great shortage in winter. Some vegetables such as cabbage can still grow until about November.
The harvest estimates of produce farmers and processors are in line with those of the German Farmers' Association (DBV). "In regions that are severely affected by the drought and have no irrigation possibilities, there are yield losses of up to 50 percent," says DBV President Joachim Rukwied.
For red cabbage and white cabbage, higher prices have already been forecast by the Agricultural Market Information Society (AMI). Normally, 10 kilograms of white cabbage cost just under four euros, explains Gabriele Held from AMI. Currently, however, even with special offers, white cabbage costs between 59 and 89 cents per kilo.
Despite all the warnings, the parties involved are still holding back concrete price estimates. The harvest is still running, final figures are not yet available. And until November the farmers are trying to salvage everything they can - for example through irrigation.
Farmer von Schönberg is already predicting a poor harvest - but has hope for the Herbst, "For me, I'm already calculating 50 percent less turnover," he says, adding he is staying optimistic for a rainy autumn.