In the fields of the Westphalian vegetable farm Frische from Westphalia, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and lettuce have been diligently cut since the beginning of May. "In contrast to last year, the start of harvest went according to plan this year. Both quality and quantity has been satisfactory to good so far," says Managing Director Sebastian Dörmann of the Bielefeld-based company.
However, heat and persistent drought are shaping this year's start to the season in outdoor cultivation. Dörmann: "Although the effects have been rather manageable so far thanks to state-of-the-art irrigation technology, the high temperatures have somewhat slowed down the growth of open ground crops. Only cauliflower and broccoli experienced a slight supply bottleneck. Otherwise, demand to date has been quite encouraging and the demand for broccoli and cauliflower is broadly in line with our cultivation plan. In that respect, sales have worked so far."
During the summer holidays, demand usually drops noticeably, says the vegetable specialist in reference to the approaching summer slump. According to Dörmann, the heat can also lead to an additional drop in demand. "When it hits 30 degrees, the consumer usually has less appetite for cabbage vegetables." However, higher temperatures increase demand for salads from domestic sources. "So far, demand for our iceberg lettuce and lettuce hearts has already been encouraging. We started harvesting relatively early and have also been able to move a relatively high volume from the beginning. Compared to cabbage, however, the lettuce market is quite competitive, with several growing regions pressing the market with high volumes even in the early part of the season."
Rising demand for regional lettuce hearts
According to Dörmann, German open ground lettuce is visibly on the rise. "The presence of domestic lettuce hearts is tending to become stronger. In order to be able to meet the increasing demand in the future, we have now expanded our cultivation area. Our lettuce hearts are marketed predominantly in flow packs of 2 or 3, either as mixed packs of red and green or individually. In the case of iceberg lettuce, we supply both the fresh market with packs of 10 and 12 and the industry with processed goods. Depending on quality and demand, the main season lasts into October, after which our cabbage vegetables increasingly come back into the consumer's focus."
Frische aus Westfalen is also confronted with the current challenges in vegetable production, Dörmann confirms. "The current cost increases of any kind are of course a difficult factor and they are leading to more discussions about everyday practices. People are trying to optimize the operating process somehow, for example in the application of fertilizer or plant protection products, in order to save money as much as possible."
Speeding up automation
The use of modern plant and agricultural technology also plays a crucial role, Dörmann said. "The current framework conditions are significantly accelerating automation, not only for us but also for our colleagues. Last fall, we had already commissioned a complete solution for full processing, such as washing, weighing or sorting our pumpkins. And we are now considering further steps in this direction."
Images: Frische aus Westfalen GmbH