May 15, 2013
Michigan asparagus takes hit from May frost

Early indications were that Michigan’s asparagus crop would be impacted by a frost event that struck May 13.

Ken Nye, executive director of the Michigan Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association’s Asparagus Division, said there was “certainly quite a bit of damage in the west-central area, in Hart and Shelby, Sunday night. (The loss) could easily be 5 to 10 percent of the harvest this year – maybe worse than that.

“It pretty much froze everything off for the first couple of pickings for a lot of growers,” Nye said. “There was some small harvest in the west-central area on (the previous) Friday, Saturday and some Sunday. Unfortunately, we lost two or three pickings and that adds up for a lot of growers.”

Southwest Michigan growers had initiated harvest about 10 days prior to the frost event, Nye said.

“There was some early picking and some pretty good production during that time. There was some mixed damage there, but they got through it in good shape.

“Unfortunately we did lose some, and the market really wanted that (production),” said Nye, who noted “there is plenty of demand from the processing and fresh side. We could have sold all of that tonnage. It keeps things firm in terms of prices, and we want to get as much as we can get. The fresh market is incredibly high-priced as this point and we want to fill that market. We’re hoping for some good weather now.”

The “first few pickings are really important to growers,” Nye said. “(The frost) has an impact on the plant, also. We hope to get back to normal and have good production from here, but it took a chunk right off the beginning.”

Michigan’s asparagus industry has worked hard to make inroads in the fresh market, and “we continue to make headway,” Nye said.

“We also want to make sure processors get as much asparagus as we can,” Nye said, noting Michigan growers want to take advantage of a leveling off of asparagus production from competitors like Peru.

“It would be nice to take advantage of that situation, but with the frost Sunday night it takes away from that opportunity. It makes it easier for folks to look at other places, too (for asparagus supply). We want to have plenty of volume and rebuild an industry that’s been in decline here in the last few years.”

John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, said frost damage to the crop in the southern part of the state was “very light, with most growers escaping most of the damage.”

He reported the asparagus fields in Oceana and Mason counties, where the bulk of the state’s production takes place, were “leveled pretty bad. Everything above the ground got froze off.”

Bakker said most of the growers anticipated the freeze event based on previous forecasts and had initiated harvest prior to the frost.

“Most of them got out and picked down fairly close. We probably lost one and a half to two pickings – about 5 to 8 percent of the harvest.

“We certainly wish we hadn’t had that frost, considering the demand is good and the market is hot,” Bakker said.

“Not so sure this would be much out of what would be considered normal. It’s not uncommon to have some early spring frost. We’ve got some frost after the middle of (May) before.”

Bakker doesn’t anticipate more cold weather threats.

“It looks to be clear sailing from here on out.”

Gary Pullano





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