What the Federal Government expects farmers to do is an “absolute insolence” for Stefan Weingärtner. The asparagus and strawberry grower from Hirschberg in the Rhein-Neckar district is on the way to the airport to pick up its seasonal workers. They are the last to have entered the country now. Since Wednesday at 5 p.m., the Ministry of the Interior has banned other harvest helpers from entering the country – otherwise, the number of social contacts is too great.
Instead of 400 seasonal workers as in other years, Weingartner now has only 14. “When it became clear that entry into the country was not possible, I organized seats on the plane.” The flights were canceled one after the other. “And at half-past five a federal policeman calls me that it is still possible until the afternoon.”
At the same time, the border guards sent harvest workers from Romania back to airports, reports Simon Schumacher, managing director of the Association of South German Asparagus and Strawberry Farmers (VSSE). The flow of information between the government, the federal states and the federal police – a mess. Now there is clarity, but the uncertainty is still huge. “Farmers are always calling me because the asparagus is growing, but there is nobody to harvest,” says Schumacher.
Farm heroes and harvest saviors
At least there are many helpful workers available online. Platforms connecting farmers and helpers have sprung up like mushrooms in the last few days. The group “Farm Heroes” programmed a mediation app at the federal government’s Hackathon this weekend, “Harvest Savior” a homepage. The offer of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food went online on Monday at 12 noon. Over 24,000 people have already registered on daslandhilft.de. “We were overwhelmed by the interest,” said Guido Krisam, spokesman for Maschinenringe Deutschland GmbH, which operates the platform for the ministry. Machine rings are associations or cooperatives in which farmers share machines or exchange staff.
Most of the advertisements come from people who want to help, but more than 300 farms have also created a search profile. Registration is easy for both parties: contact details, the scope of work, type of activity and you’re done. “Over 90 percent of the traffic comes from Instagram and Facebook. We use it to reach young, motivated people, ”says Krisam.
But are they the ones who will stick the asparagus out of the ground six days a week? The portal does not ask about agricultural experience. “Time flexible” can often be read, but more than 40 hours of work per week is not offered. Farmer Weingärtner has created a profile, but he is skeptical: “ Asparagus stinging is hard work on your knees. People can’t imagine that. ”Like many companies, he worked with the same people every season.
“They already know where the wheelbarrow is in the yard and can start right away,” says Schumacher from VSSE. This year, inexperienced beginners would be on the field instead of the harvesting professionals from Eastern Europe. Michaela Huschle also searches online. Two hectares of strawberries will soon be harvested at their family business near Offenburg. “Otherwise 15 full-time employees did that. Now there are a lot more people because they only have a few hours. “
Guido Krisam from the machine ring is still motivated. A hop farmer was moved to tears. For two days now he has been putting wires with young Fridays for Future activists. Their motivation and interest in agriculture are overwhelming. Another farmer had told him that she found her new helpers in just 20 minutes.
Solidarity is good, but it is not enough
Solidarity is a symbol that does good, says Schumacher from VSSE. But it won’t be enough. What the 300,000 harvest helpers from Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania do for little money in Germany every year is now becoming apparent. You can’t simply replace them.
Schumacher is therefore afraid that there will be bottlenecks in vegetables. “What is not planted now cannot be harvested in summer.” There will be no trial run in the field. Because what the new workers can only show when the berries are ripe.