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FARMING

German farmers shut down streets in nationwide protest against government plans

German farmers got on their tractors on Tuesday and took to city roads to demonstrate against the government’s agricultural policies.

German farmers shut down streets in nationwide protest against government plans
Farmers at a protest on October 14th in Bonn. Photo: DPA

Up to 10,000 protesters along with about 1,000 tractors were expected in the western German city of Bonn, where the German Agriculture Ministry is based.

Protests were due to take place in a total of 17 cities, including Berlin, Munich, Bayreuth, Erfurt, Rendsburg, Hanover, Oldenburg, Stuttgart, Freiburg, Leipzig and Görlitz. They were being organized by the movement “Land schafft Verbindung” (countryside creates connection).

On social media, people posted videos of the tractors in Bonn.

The farmers' protest is against the government's agricultural package, which Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, of the CDU, and Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, of the SPD, presented at the beginning of September. 

A tractor shutting down one of Stuttgart's main streets. Photo: DPA

Among other things, the package stipulates that the weedkiller glyphosate will be banned in Germany by the end of 2023 after a phasing-out period.

READ ALSO: 'What harms insects harms people': Germany to ban cancer-linked pesticide

The government is also proposing to reduce the nitrate content in ground water by cutting the use of certain fertilizers and liquid manure. The country is under pressure from the EU for exceeding the allowable levels of nitrates in groundwater, which is mainly due to mass livestock farming.

But many German farmers say they are still coping with large amounts of excess nitrate from the past.

There are fears that the agricultural package will endanger family-run farms, according to the Land schafft Verbindung.

Huge traffic disruption

In Bonn, there were already traffic jams on Tuesday morning and disruption to trams, particularly in the Rhein-Sieg district. A rally was expected to take place around 11am at Münsterplatz.

In Berlin around 1,000 farmers from the neighbouring state of Brandenburg were expected, with about 200 tractors in tow. 

They were set to demonstrate through the city centre. Drivers or commuters have been urged to avoid the Victory Column and the area around Tiergarten.

Police tweeted about some of the roads and areas affected by the demo.

The farmers are calling on Klöckner and Schulze to discuss current agricultural and climate plans with them so they can have their say.

But the action is also about defending farmers' reputation.

“We are not animal abusers and polluters,”  a statement by the  Land schafft Verbindung said, German media reported on Tuesday. “The permanent negative mood and the farmer bashing leads to anger and frustration in the profession.”

They added that discrimination and condescending remarks endanger the future of farms and rural areas.

READ ALSO: Sparks fly as Germany's climate plan hits rural landscapes

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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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