A group of local hop growers has made a public appeal that this year’s hop crop is at risk. The IGN (Interest Group Quality Hops Niederlauterbach) claims that there are not enough foreign seasonal workers to work in the hop gardens due to the travel restrictions as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
“In view of the border closures, there are currently hardly any seasonal workers available for spring work in the hop gardens,” a letter reads. Seasonal farm workers from Poland or Romania will stay away this year - not necessarily because they are not allowed to enter the country, but because they fear quarantine upon their return. Germany is considered a risk area for the coronavirus in their home countries and people can’t get back to their regular work at home because they don't have enough vacation time for a 14-day quarantine.
The hop is a perennial plant that needs a lot of care throughout the year. Currently the wires on which the hop plant can climb up have to be anchored to the floor and hung up. The world’s largest growing area for hops, the Hallertau region north of Munich, Germany, currently needs around 5,000 farm workers, which usually come from the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland. This number rises in April to 15,000 when the hop plants start growing. Workers need to cut about 17 of the 20 hop shoots and have to wind the remaining three clockwise around the wire to help them wind upwards themselves. This work in the hop gardens takes about 3 weeks. “Even if we find enough workers for the current work, we will be lacking the increasing number of people we need after Easter,” one hop grower from the Hallertau region is quoted in a regional newspaper.
"The situation is dramatic," warns Franz-Xaver Hobmaier, chairman of the Farm Machinery Cooperative Mainburg. "The mood among farmers fluctuates between hope and fear." He wants to recruit students that are currently not allowed to go to university as seasonal farm workers. Another idea is to have jobless bartenders and other people that have lost their jobs during the crisis trained for this job.
“If we don’t find enough workers for the job to be done, the reduced yield can result in a severe shortage of available hops this year,” says one of the affected hop growers. “Who is to be paying for this?” he asks.
However, a reduced crop would most likely result in increased prices for hops which could partly compensate the hop growers for the loss in yield. In this case, brewers and consumers would have to pay for the bill.