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Is there a threat of an acute shortage of seasonal workers?

Coronavirus slows down German vegetable harvest

Asparagus farmers have started harvesting, but the corona crisis is worrying them. Border controls are discouraging seasonal workers. Others don't even set off for Germany because of the virus.

The coronavirus could lead to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in Germany. Simon Schumacher of the Association of Southern German Asparagus and Strawberry Growers (VSSE) fears bottlenecks in the upcoming harvests. He said that the fruit and vegetable harvest in Germany was dependent on cheap labour from other EU countries; workers who earn only a minimum wage and are able to be employed for up to three months without social security.

180,000 seasonal workers in Southern Germany
For the asparagus and strawberry harvest alone, growers in southern Germany needed more than 180,000 seasonal workers, Schumacher said. Most of them usually came from Poland and Romania. While many Poles preferred to stay at home this year for fear of an infection, most Romanians were still willing to come to Germany, Schumacher said.

But the rigid border policy of some EU countries in the fight against the corona virus could put a damper on their plans. "Our greatest concern is that Austria and Hungary will close the borders completely," Schumacher said. Then the growers would no longer know how to go on. The first large quantities are to be harvested as early as the end of March.

Schumacher is sceptical about the proposal by the Federal Minister of Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, to employ German employees from the catering trade for the harvest. Expensive personnel with lower efficiency would be a problem for a production that had already had difficulties in being profitable.

Asparagus harvest starts in the second half of April
In Germany, asparagus harvesting normally begins in the second half of April and lasts until "Johannestag", 24 June. In recent years, however, it has also started earlier, not least because of the use of foil. While 20 years ago this was still rather the exception, today it is more the rule, and this is also increasingly so in berry cultivation.

Josef Peck (LGV, left)
and Simon Schumacher (VSSE)


"We will need more people, for example from the catering trade." 
In Austria too, the exceptional situation is causing trouble for vegetable producers. Much in the food supply stands and falls with the necessary employees, says Josef Peck, member of the board of LGV Frischgemüse. The cooperative unites 150 family businesses that grow fruit and vegetables. Many commuters from abroad also work for them - they too should be able to cross the border more easily, demands Peck. "We will need more people, for example from the catering trade."

Whatever vegetables are not cultivated now will be missing in six months time. In addition, people are needed in sorting, packaging and logistics. Unlike fruit, with which the warehouses are well stocked, fresh vegetables can often only be stored for a week.

LGV has recently received three to five times more orders from retailers than usual. "We were able to meet most of their needs." In the coming weeks, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes will be ripe in Austria.

For more information:
Verband Süddeutscher Spargel- und Erdbeeranbauer e.V.
Simon Schumacher
Werner-von-Siemens-Straße 2-6
76646 Bruchsal
Tel.: +49 7251 30320-80

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