"If May is cool and wet, it fills the farmer's barn and barrel." Unfortunately, the old farmers' rule only applied and still applies to cereals, says Frank Saalfeld, managing director of the Association of East German Asparagus and Berry Growers (Vosba): "With asparagus, however, and especially with strawberries, it's a bit different. At least a little higher temperatures, but above all sun, can't hurt there."
However, the situation with asparagus is not as bad as some assume because of the cold spring, says Saalfeld: "The start around Easter was indeed difficult because of the cold, but in the meantime the soil already stores a lot of heat during the day. And thanks to the cover films, it's no longer released during the nights."
At worst, the asparagus grows a little slower, but that in no way diminishes its quality - on the contrary: the relatively even temperatures are perfect for asparagus. And the harvesters don't have to scour the same areas twice a day, which in turn leads to higher harvest productivity, he says. "This also means the spears don't turn purple as quickly," says Saalfeld, "although that doesn't mean a reduction in quality. But customers are now used to good white asparagus."
For Ernst August Winkelmann of the Klaistow asparagus farm in the Beelitz growing region, the taste of the 2021 asparagus is sensational. "You always think it tastes particularly good, but this year it tastes just perfect," he says: "I can only explain this by the fact that our varieties reacted very well to the late frosts."
Due to the Corona pandemic, there have been no major problems so far in this year's harvest. In contrast to 2020, asparagus farmers in the region had been able to prepare for this early on - with special hygiene concepts, work in groups and, above all, sufficient testing.
The Sallgast asparagus farm near Finsterwalde in the Elbe-Elster district was also well prepared for the approximately 65 seasonal harvest helpers from Poland and Romania, says managing director Eckhard Kuhl: "We even had some of our regular employees trained by the German Red Cross to carry out the Corona tests, set up a farm store to supply them and took many other measures to ensure that all hygiene rules could be observed."
Still, he said, some helpers didn't show up because of fear, and others went home earlier than planned because of bad weather. "We were really hurt by this high turnover, in addition to the unfavorable weather at the beginning of the season. April de facto didn't happen!"
In April, Sallgast asparagus farmers usually harvest 30 percent of their total crop, this year it was only 10 percent. However, the chances are good that the losses can be compensated for in May, which is warmer after all - a few hours of sunshine a day are enough to ensure the necessary warmth for the sensitive spears in the ground.
In addition, the asparagus farm Sallgast opens its outdoor restaurant on the weekend after Whitsun and hopes for the numerous regulars from Berlin and Dresden, among others, who often combine the meal with a visit to the nearby Spreewald.
The weather even led to losses in direct marketing in the field or at their own stands. But the Sallgast asparagus farm also sells its products through the trade, where demand is as high as in previous years. "When it's pouring down rain, hardly anyone stops at the edge of the field or at the stand on the road," says Kuhl.
This is not the case in Berlin and Potsdam, says Jürgen Jakobs from the asparagus farm of the same name in Beelitz. There, he says, the rush is unbroken, and the city dwellers are not deterred by the rain from buying directly from the producer. "And they are also happy to pay the 10 euros or so that you have to spend for a kilo of the good varieties," says Jürgen Jakobs.
"We can't complain about yields or lack of demand this year. And if many gastronomic establishments are now allowed to reopen, things can only get better. After all, the entire second half of the asparagus season is still ahead of us."
Because of the delayed start, this could be extended by two weeks, says Winkelmann from the Klaistow asparagus farm, which will be open again from Whit Sunday. Normally, the asparagus season officially ends every year on June 24, the so-called St. John's Day, for which, by the way, a different farming rule applies than for May: "If it stays dry and warm on St. John's Day, that doesn't make the farmer poor.