Eckhard Kuhl still can’t believe that his fields in the district of Elbe-Elster in Brandenburg are still full of unharvested asparagus that no customer has wanted to buy in recent weeks. Many producers in Germany are currently facing a slump in the asparagus market. “It makes my heart bleed” – complains a farmer in Brandenburg. After all, these unique vegetables should be reaching consumers, but instead they go to waste in the fields.
Harvest more than halved
Kuhl harvested only three and a half tons of asparagus per hectare, when it could have harvested eight. That represents a loss of more than 50 percent. He has already taken 25 of the 60 hectares of his farm out of production. This also translates into employment levels: instead of the 100 seasonal workers he usually employs, this year only 60 people are working on his farm.
He knows from his customers that they feel insecure. They are worried about how much their housing bills, utility costs, etc. will increase. So they prefer to cut unnecessary expenses. In any case, all indications are that far fewer people are willing to spend money on their favorite vegetables this year.
Multiple crises at once
Representatives of the industry confirm this trend. Phillip Haverkamp of the Handelsverband Berlin Brandenburg says consumer sentiment is extremely bad. In his opinion, this is due to the fact that we are dealing with several crises simultaneously. Apparently, the long-lasting coronavirus pandemic and now the war in Ukraine have taken away Germans’ appetite for exclusive pleasures.
“I really pay close attention to prices now,” confirms Rita Trotzke. She is a regular customer at the farm store Jakobs-Hof in Beelitz. The municipality to the south-east of Potsdam is one of Germany’s best-known asparagus-growing regions. Yet even here, customers seem more reserved than in the past. They decide less often to buy these noble vegetables, for example, only on weekends.
Price competition from abroad
Asparagus producers are watching this drop in demand with concern, as prices are under more pressure than before. “Asparagus is the cheapest it has been in five years,” – explains farmer Jürgen Jakobs, who is also president of the association Verein Beelitzer Spargel e.V. At the start of the season, the best asparagus cost €16.90 per kilo, but this has since dropped to €11.90. The cheapest product costs €3.50. “In the supermarket, fresh asparagus is even cheaper,” says Jakobs.
This is also due to competition from abroad. Spain and Greece have long recognized that Germany is an interesting market. Producers from neighbouring countries such as Poland are also entering the market with cheap asparagus. It is a price war that German asparagus producers cannot win.
Big sale in your own restaurant
For some asparagus farms, a small glimmer of hope after the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic is their own gastronomic offerings. At Jürgen Jakobs’ restaurant, asparagus is now in high demand. After two difficult years in which business was significantly impaired, this year the restaurant is seeing a lot of visitors.
Half of this year’s asparagus season is already behind us. The harvest will last until June 24.