Apr 22, 2013
Michigan asparagus growers eye good price bump

Favorable market conditions are leading to a nickel-a-pound price hike from Michigan’s asparagus handlers in 2013, a figure that industry leaders hope will spur more interest among growers and add more acres in order to meet increasing market demands.

Michigan asparagus growers will get 78 cents per pound (cash) from the state’s asparagus handlers this year – 79.5 cents per pound with payment terms, according to Ken Nye, executive director of the Michigan Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association’s Asparagus Division.

Nye announced the processing prices (for cuts and tips) during Oceana Asparagus Day in Hart, Mich., March 12. He said he anticipated every state handler to agree to the prices.

Prices this year are based on favorable stocks of frozen asparagus (indicating good demand), declining acreage in Peru and cold January temperatures in Mexico. He said the indications for the fresh market for 2013 are “very strong.”

Last year’s price was 73 cents per pound; 70 cents in 2011; 62 cents in 2010; 66 cents in 2009; 67 cents in 2008.

“It’s a nice increase of five cents, and there are a lot of reasons for that,” Nye said. “Stocks appear to be favorable, since we did not have a big crop last year. For Peru, the blush is off the asparagus deal, and that’s good for Michigan to be able to make up the shortfall there. Mexico had some cold temperatures in January. And our fresh market looks pretty good.

“Hopefully, this will continue on to be a pretty favorable outlook in terms of the 2013 crop,” he said.

Nye stressed there is a need and a ready market for more asparagus production in Michigan.

“We want to make sure growers know we need some more asparagus,” he said. “We are not producing enough to satisfy every market. We want to send a message to the growers’ community and that is that there is a need for more asparagus. We’ve got to get more acres. We need to have more varieties and we need more seed.”

After previously hitting a high of more than 20,000 acres, Michigan produced 16,000 acres of asparagus in 2003. In 2012, that total had dropped to 10,000 acres, Nye said.

“It had already started to slide in 2003,” he recalled. “The production in that year is the most that has been produced in quite a while. We had 27.5 million pounds that year. Fresh was 4 million that year. We got 60 cents for cuts and tips and 66 for fresh. We had 10 processors then. We used to talk about USDA purchases of almost 6 million pounds, which was a big part in getting that 60-cent price.

“Now, we’re down to four processors and no USDA purchase,” he said.

Nye said USDA figures showed 19 million pounds of asparagus being produced in Michigan last year, at 73 cents per pound – 13 cents more than in 2003.

“The fresh price last year was the best we ever had,” Nye said.

Nye said an emphasis on producing quality product must be continued.

“We know when supply is down, quality doesn’t usually go overboard,” he said. “We need to make sure both fresh markets and processors get what they need to put quality stuff in the box and in the can.”

Nye acknowledged that growers face considerable labor challenges based on last year’s early freeze problems in Michigan, which saw workers go elsewhere despite the existence of harvestable crops in the field.

“Labor is a key problem, with the inability to attract a labor force to get the work done,” he said. “There is a concern you won’t have the labor when you need (it).”

Anticipated changes in U.S. immigration policy – as slow as they are in developing – also are likely to impact growers in the future.

“And we need to diversify our industry into more of a fresh-market component,” Nye said. “We need to grow both the process and fresh markets together out into the future.”

With a decline in production volume and grower interest, Nye said he also is concerned about the solidity of organizations like MACMA that advocate for the industry’s vitality.

“About two-thirds of the growers already are members, but we need to get others on board.”

– Gary Pullano

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