Alfter/Meckenheim/Swisttal This year the harvesting from foil tunnels and the open fields is starting later than usual due to the cold weather. But the farmers on the left side of the Rhine are satisfied with the first strawberries.
The 2021 strawberry harvest from tunnels and the open fields is starting later than last year. This is not due to the wet weather in recent weeks, but rather to the low temperatures and insufficient sunlight at times. The farmers unanimously agree that this is the reason for the late development of the fruit.
Over the weekend, one or two farmers in the Rhine-Sieg district on the left side of the Rhine started picking their strawberries in the foil tunnels, whilst others will only start harvesting in the next few days. Outside in the fields, the first fruits are expected in mid to late May.
This strawberry season is a special one for Karl-Heinz Mandt, for he will harvest his fruit for the first time from the tunnels installed in 2020. “We were under pressure. Customers no longer like to wait and want to have strawberries on the table as early as possible,” said senior director Mandt, explaining the reasons for the novelty on his farm. The tunnels can be used not only for early cultivation, but also later in the season under outdoor conditions, as the sides can be opened.
‘Glorielle’ is harvested first
Whereas Mandt had previously only relied on outdoor cultivation, the foil tunnels are paying off for him this year, because - despite the less-than-ideal weather conditions - the harvest season began for him on Saturday and thus earlier than last year. Four harvest workers from Romania and Poland are helping with the picking. Mandt initially expects a low yield and so they will only be picking every other day.
The harvest begins with the early ‘Glorielle’ variety, “an exceptionally beautiful and sweet variety. The bumblebees have been pollinating for weeks, so the fruits have a uniform appearance,” Mandt enthuses. He sells his strawberries exclusively in his own farm shop on Taubenweiherweg. He cannot yet name a definite price for a 500g punnet, but he estimates it will cost between three and four euros.
His colleague Johannes Heck from Swisttal-Straßfeld is also waiting in the wings. At the end of April, which is around a week later than in 2020, the 37-year-old wants to harvest the first ‘Clery’ variety in the foil tunnels. On an area of ten hectares and five hectares respectively, the Straßfeld strawberries grow and ripen in tunnels and outdoors. Heck expects the first outdoor berries around 20th May. Although this year there was an early start in the tunnel in February and March due to the warm temperatures, says Heck, the cold nights in recent weeks have delayed the development from flower to fruit.
Farmer with an eye on the weather
Heck therefore keeps a close eye on the weather forecast every day and he covers the strawberries with fleece both in the tunnel (at minus one degree) and outdoors (at less than ten degrees) in the event of extremely low temperatures at night. Soon the first harvest workers will arrive from Romania; in the next few weeks, around 50 seasonal workers will be working in his fields - also to prick the asparagus. Heck sells his berries at stalls and to wholesalers and food retailers. He cannot say anything about prices yet. “Supply and demand will regulate this,” he says.
Eight days later this year, it is also the turn of Meckenheim fruit grower Manfred Felten. On one hectare, varieties such as ‘Glorielle’ and ‘Elsanta’ (medium-early variety) are ripening in their second year - they are replanted each year - in stationary tunnels. For Felten, the late start to the harvest in the tunnel was not necessarily due to the cold, but to the lack of sunlight. When he expects frost - like last week - the fruits in the tunnel are covered with fleece to conserve the heat from the earth.
He expects a good harvest, explaining that the shape of the fruit looks good and the flower spacing is complete, which indicates diligent pollination. The flower buds of the outdoor berries can just be seen, and Felten expects the flowers in a week. Then the picking in the field can start at the end of May. A 500g punnet will cost between three and four euros. “We want to sell as much as possible on the farm and as little as possible in retail. The profit margin is too low there,” he explains.