Germany has lifted its ban on seasonal farm workers entering the country, announcing that farms can bring in 80,000 people after an outcry from the agricultural lobby and warnings from the retail sector about a potential hit to food supplies. The move, which was announced on Thursday, marks a swift reversal for the German government, which imposed a complete ban on seasonal workers only last week as part of Berlin’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. It highlights growing concern across Europe that the current lockdown measures will have a devastating impact on the agricultural sector and could leave vast amounts of produce to rot in the fields. “This is good news for our farmers. The harvest does not wait, and neither does the sowing,” said Julia Klöckner, German agriculture minister. Horst Seehofer, German interior minister, said: “We must keep the state and the economy going despite the pandemic. Today we managed to find a path that allows us to secure the harvest while also protecting the health of the population.” Under the new plan, German farms will be allowed to bring in a total of 80,000 workers during the months of April and May.
In addition, the government is calling for another 20,000 workers to be recruited from the ranks of the unemployed, students, asylum seekers and furloughed workers. Berlin estimates that farmers need at least 100,000 extra people to work in the fields over the coming months. Seasonal workers from abroad will enter Germany by plane, to avoid lengthy bus trips, and must be kept separate from the domestic workforce for at least two weeks after arrival. All new arrivals will have to submit to a health check.