Mar 15, 2019
2018 Michigan asparagus crop biggest in a decade; processing price even

The year after a productive season, Michigan asparagus growers will keep their prices for processing asparagus locked in.

Growers met March 14  with researchers, educators, handlers and industry officials at Oceana Asparagus Day in New Era, Michigan.

Norm Myers of the Michigan Agriculture Commodities Marketing Association’s Asparagus Division reported the price would stay even at 77 cents per pound cash, or $0.785 on delayed terms of payment. He said two handlers had agreed to the price; two others had opted out.

2018 was free of disruptive frost events and was the biggest crop since 2009, Myers said. It was the largest processing crop since 2014. Exact figures were not immediately available. Myers said his presentation was based on data from the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board (MAAB).

A USDA purchase is not likely in 2019 or 2020, he said, although he and other industry representatives continue to work on that possibility.

“The frozen market is looking more positive,” he said. “Talk to your processors well ahead of the season and see what position they’re in.”

Education sessions

The majority of the event was spent with education sessions many from Michigan State University educators, researchers and graduate students.

One highlight of the sessions was a presentation from a German professor, Carmen Feller of the Leibniz-Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops, who gave her presentation remotely from Europe. At the government-funded institution, she has studied asparagus for more than 10 years, she said.

Recently, her research focused on how to visually diagnose asparagus ferns for deficiencies of nutrients and micronutrients. Patterns in decolorization, chlorosis and necrosis, deformities and reduced growth, help growers diagnose deficiencies in magnesium, potassium, sulfur, phosphorous, calcium manganese, zinc or boron, she said.

Another education session was conducted by James House and Scott Hulsey of the Gourmet Trading Co. The two painted a picture of asparagus production from the Americas. While production is decreasing in California and Peru, Mexico continues to expand its acres. Peru will likely continue to be a producer, and while Mexican growth seems to be de-accelerating, it also continues to grow. Overall consumer demand for asparagus is also growing.

Hulsey, a sales vice president for Gourmet, fielded a difficult question from MAAB CEO John Bakker about Mexican and Peruvian imports that seemingly undermine Michigan’s season.

He agreed there was increased competition among asparagus-growing regions in the Americas.

“The traditional areas and time frames are widening,” Hulsey said. “There’s going to be a point where somebody’s going to have to get out of the way.”

Grant for asparagus research

Bakker highlighted some good news for Michigan growers – a $100,000 grant to the Michigan Asparagus Industry Research Farm for equipment.

The machine, a Christiaens Automated Sorting Machine, is specifically designed for breeders and researchers. It can automatically sort asparagus spears for quality, helping researchers to analyze how varieties are performing in field trials, he said.

The money, a rural development fund grant, was awarded in late February by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, along with 15 other projects totaling $1.5 million, through a competitive grant-writing process. The department originally received 66 proposals with requests totaling nearly $5.1 million, according to a news release.

 Stephen Kloosterman, Associate Editor

Above: Norm Myers of the Michigan Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association’s Asparagus Division speaks at Asparagus in New Era March 14, 2019. Photo: Stephen Kloosterman

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