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.
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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.
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”.
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.