German strawberry season 2018 to end earlier than usual

Short and intense harvest: Too many strawberries leads to falling prices

Warm summer temperatures in May and a lack of cold weather resulted in the strawberries ripening much faster this season. The result was that open ground strawberries, which normally ripen two weeks later, had to be harvested along with the protected cultivation strawberries. This resulted in high yields in a short time - and shortages of harvest workers. Many farms could not cope with the rapid succession of harvests and were forced to leave parts of their fields unharvested. With all this oversupply, prices fell quickly. They are only just recovering, now the volumes harvested are decreasing.

"In southern and central Germany, most of the strawberry farms have already stopped harvesting or will do so soon. Late varieties such as the Malwina or other cultivars are still being harvested. In Northern Germany is still the main season, but it will also end earlier, in mid-July. Customers should buy their fresh strawberries right now, unless they want to wait until the next season," says Simon Schumacher, CEO of the Association of Southern German Asparagus and Strawberry Growers Association (VSSE).

Weather extremes: heat, heavy rain, drought
In addition to the heat in the south, several instances of heavy rainfall and extreme drought in the north were a challenge for the growers. "There was not enough rain in the north. The heat and the drought have done much damage here. It is the first time in many years that so many areas could not be harvested. The early season was very problematic, but since we are still in the main season, you can not evaluate the final crop yet. We expect a good season and a good late season," explains Tillman Keller, a strawberry cultivation consultant from Northern Germany.

Throughout Germany, the strawberry season will be two weeks shorter this year. All in all, enough strawberries from Germany are expected to be on the market until mid-July.

Strawberry quality: very tasty, but affected by heat and heavy rains
Overall, there were many delicious fruits this season. As for strawberries from protected cultivation; their quality was very good. In areas of heavy rain, the strawberries were damaged in the field and had to be picked quickly to prevent rot. During hot periods, the berries were a bit softer, resulting in bruises and more spoilage. "In the end, the quality of the strawberries was not as good, as the plants suffered from heat stress. Overall, the harvest in 2018 is larger than in the previous year," says Katrin Hetebrügge, strawberry cultivation consultant in Hesse.

Difficult market: Imported strawberries make it hard to sell via food retail - Big yields lead to low prices
According to the Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft mbH (AMI), this year, imported strawberries were found in the retail chains for quite a while. "It's uncharacteristic that Spanish strawberries can be found on the shelves for so long. As the food retail trade often claims to go for "regionality", in the main season imported strawberries are usually replaced by German strawberries," says Eva Würtenberger from AMI.

Many strawberry growers and cultivation experts have seen a clear deviation from the standard for this season: "The traders entered the German market way too late and exploited the fact that there was a large amount of strawberries from start to finish during the high season. The fruits did not get the right prices. At these prices, growers can not go on. With a turnover like this, they can not create reserves for investment," summarizes Christof Steegmüller, strawberry cultivation consultant in Baden-Württemberg and the Palatinate.

Shortage of harvest workers aggravates problems
and requires political action

The peaks in harvest labour could not be serviced or cushioned because there was a lack of harvest workers. Many companies were consistently short-staffed. "This will continue get worse and worse in the future," explains VSSE CEO Simon Schumacher, "because in Poland and Romania, things are looking up economically, and in addition, the strawberry growers compete with labor opportunities in other industries that are less physically demanding and sometimes also offer better perspectives. That is why it is important to improve access to workers from Ukraine and to make sure the 3-month or 70-day regime for social insurance-free, short-term employment remains in place."

Reducing this regime to two months would significantly increase costs for businesses and would increase the risk of labour shortages. Because most businesses need seasonal workers for three months, and harvest workers prefer to receive three month-wages without social security deductions. In addition, harvest workers benefit only slightly from the social security contributions. For example: the pension entitlement, extrapolated at three-month employment per year for 20 years, amounts to a paltry 2.50 euros per month.

The Association of Southern German asparagus and strawberry grower e. V. (VSSE) is Germany's largest association for asparagus and strawberry growers with more than 600 members. It is committed to strengthening domestic production vis-à-vis administration and politics.

For more information:
Verband Süddeutscher Spargel - und Erdbeeranbauer e.V.
Werner-von-Siemens-Str. 2-6 / Gebäude 5161
76646 Bruchsal
Simon Schumacher

Tel.: +49 (0)7251 3032080
Fax: +49 (0)7251 3032095

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