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Germany Is Struggling To Fill Its Farm Labor Shortage After Closing Its Borders : NPR

Fresh asparagus is pictured in a basket at a field in Bottrop, Germany, in mid-April. Farms across Europe are facing a labor shortage as a result of closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin Meissner/AP


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Martin Meissner/AP

Fresh asparagus is pictured in a basket at a field in Bottrop, Germany, in mid-April. Farms across Europe are facing a labor shortage as a result of closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin Meissner/AP

Arne Garlipp has farmed his 150 acres of asparagus in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt for 24 years. For much of that time, he has relied on seasonal workers to help harvest it each spring.

“Our Romanian workers live with us on the farm,” says Garlipp. “In the fields they’re surrounded by fresh air, birds and very few people.”

But when Germany closed its borders to slow the coronavirus outbreak, Garlipp and hundreds of thousands of other German farmers were suddenly in panic mode. Each year, 300,000 seasonal workers — mostly from Romania and Poland — come to Germany to harvest asparagus, lettuce, apples and other crops that Germans rely on.

Germany’s federal government has given special permission and offered air travel for 80,000 seasonal workers from Romania and Poland to enter Germany to harvest crops, but farmers say it won’t be enough.

“There will be an impact in the market, and we will see this later in the year, in the summer,” says Udo Hemmerling, the deputy general secretary of the German Farmers’ Association.

It is a problem playing out in farms across Europe, as counter-virus restrictions disrupt work and supply chains, and risk leaving unpicked produce to rot.

The situation is so dire that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has urged member states to allow workers to come to their countries, treating fruit and vegetable pickers as essential.

In Germany, developers have created a mobile app called Clever Ackern — German for “clever plowing” — to help fill the worker shortage on farms while also addressing unemployment in cities.

“It’s a platform where people, students, young people and people who just lost their jobs register and tell us their availability on the upcoming weeks and months to help farmers on their fields,” app developer Fabian Höhne says.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Höhne ran a travel booking app that offered last-minute discounted airline tickets to students. With hardly anyone flying, he and his staff shifted gears and came up with the program connecting farmers and potential workers. The service is free of charge. Within days of launching in March, 40,000 people registered to become farm workers, the developer says.

“I think the great weather, of course, is bringing people outside, and they’re saying, ‘OK, yeah, let’s do something. Let’s help,’ ” says Höhne.

But farmer Garlipp is skeptical about the idea of city folks working in the fields, and he isn’t convinced it is a good idea health-wise, either.

“If I take on [Germans] to help with the harvest — assuming they’re fit enough for the job — the problem I face is that they’ll come from all over the region,” Garlipp says. “I have no idea where these people have been or who they’re mixing with at the end of the day, and the risk of [coronavirus] infection is much higher.”

Garlipp says he’s received more than a hundred offers from Germans willing to help him on the farm, but it turns out he won’t need their help. Thanks to the German government, his regular team of 80 Romanians is among those who will be allowed to bring in the harvest this year.

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Restarting Field Ops, Hiring After Coronavirus Measures : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

After suspending 2020 census field operations because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau says it’s restarting the hand-delivery of paper forms in rural communities and the hiring of door knockers in some parts of 13 states.

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After suspending 2020 census field operations because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau says it’s restarting the hand-delivery of paper forms in rural communities and the hiring of door knockers in some parts of 13 states.

Ted S. Warren/AP

Updated at 8:56 p.m. ET

Some workers for the 2020 census are heading back to rural communities this week in more than a dozen states as part of a phased-in restart of field operations for the national head count that were suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Certain local census offices in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia are resuming operations this week, the Census Bureau announced Monday.

Workers there are set to undergo safety training and receive personal protective equipment, the bureau said, before they’re sent out to hand-deliver paper census forms in areas where most homes receive mail at post office boxes or drop points.

“The Update Leave operation does not require interaction between households and a Census Bureau employee and follows the most current federal health and safety guidelines,” the bureau’s press release said.

Asked by NPR what specific “social distancing protocols” census workers will have to follow, the Census Bureau says in an email that it’s relying on CDC guidance, including standing six feet away from another person.

In addition to ordering disinfectant wipes for its local offices, the bureau tells NPR it is preparing to provide each employee a new reusable face mask for every 10 days worked and a pair of gloves each work day. Employees conducting field operations will also receive hand sanitizer.

The bureau is also preparing to resume fingerprinting for newly hired door knockers, who are currently set to visit homes that haven’t yet participated in the count, starting in August.

Monday’s announcement comes after Census Bureau officials informed the House Oversight and Reform Committee late last month of its plans to switch from a nationwide relaunch of field operations on June 1 to a restart in waves based on public health guidance and the availability of protective equipment.

Despite the pause, the bureau has continued collecting responses from households across the country for the once-a-decade, constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the country. As of Sunday, close to 84 million households have participated — most of them online at my2020census.gov — putting the national self-response rate at more than 56%.

At least a decade’s worth of consequences in political power and federal funding come with the count’s results. They are used to help determine each state’s share of an estimated $1.5 trillion a year that are distributed for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services.

The latest population counts from the census are also used to redraw voting districts and redistribute the number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states.

Because the pandemic has wreaked havoc on its schedule for the 2020 census, the bureau has proposed pushing back the legal deadlines to deliver new state population counts to the president for reapportioning Congress and to provide to the states redistricting data — including information derived from government records on the U.S. citizenship status of every person living in the country as requested by the Trump administration.

Delaying those deadlines would upend redistricting plans in many states. Still, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House oversight committee, has voiced support for the bureau’s request for four-month extensions, which Maloney suggested could be included in an upcoming bill or the next COVID-19 relief package.

“We have to adjust to the times,” Maloney said during a press conference last week.

All of the interruptions to 2020 census plans — which are costing the bureau $1.5 billion of its $2 billion emergency budget — have heightened concerns that historically undercounted groups, including rural residents and people of color, will not be accurately represented in data that policymakers, business leaders and researchers rely on for demographic insight into the U.S. population.

As of Monday, the bureau has not announced any revised plans for counting people who are experiencing homelessness, going door to door for in-person counting in some American Indian tribal territories or hand-delivering paper forms in Puerto Rico, where the latest self-response rate trails behind those of the states at 7.6%.



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