The German Hop Growers Association and its managing director Otmar Weingarten are pursuing unusual paths in times of the coronavirus. The 64-year old manager, who heads the German Hop Growers Association as well as the Hallertau Hop Growers Association for almost 30 years, is probably facing one of the hardest challenges in his career.
As a result of border closures due to the coronavirus outbreak there are currently lacking about 15,000 seasonal workers for the works in German hop gardens, of which 10,000 are needed in the biggest growing area Hallertau alone.
At the end of March, local hop growers rang the alarm bell saying that this year’s crop was at risk if seasonal workers from Poland or Romania were not allowed to enter the country (inside.beer, 29.3.2020). Last year, German farmers employed nearly 300,000 seasonal workers which are needed not only for hops but also for lettuce, asparagus and other farm products.
German politics reacted immediately and gave a special permit for 40,000 migrant farm workers in April and another 40,000 in May. However, strict COVID-19 cautionary measures apply. Foreign workers are not allowed to cross borders in an uncontrolled manner in crowded busses like in the past but have to be flown in by chartered flights and separated in a special quarantine on the fields.
This was the time when Otmar Weingarten and his team were needed. They immediately called their travel agency, “our longstanding partner for trips to foreign congresses and hop tours” and recruited seasonal workers on site in Romania, chartered airplanes, organized the security forces at the airport in Romania, "so that there is enough distance", handled all official formalities and, if required, organized the transportation from the airport in Germany to the locations in the fields.
“These are exciting days,” says Weingarten. But it looks as if he has everything under control and the hop growers have enough seasonal workers to tie up the hop shoots, a work that is expected to start by the end of next week.