Mar 11, 2016Michigan asparagus growers see prices dip
Michigan asparagus growers will receive a lower price for processed asparagus than they have seen for the two previous years.
The state’s handlers will pay 76 cents per pound cash; 75.5 cents per pound delayed terms, for growers’ asparagus this year, according to Norm Meyers, executive secretary of the Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association’s Asparagus Division.
The price is down from 79 cents per pound cash and 80.5 cents per pound delayed terms in both 2014 and 2015.
Meyers announced the processing prices (for cuts and tips) during the Oceana Asparagus Day held March 10 in New Era, Michigan. He anticipated all three of the Michigan handlers who currently are processing asparagus would agree to the price.
Each year the MACMA Asparagus Division’s Marketing and Bargaining Committee recommends minimum prices for processing asparagus to asparagus processors. The committee’s recommended prices are established after all relevant production and marketing factors are considered. Handlers and other industry sources are consulted in this processing price discovery process.
If necessary, grower prices can be set through binding arbitration as provided for under the Agricultural Marketing and Bargaining Act; however this is generally not necessary.
“It’s going to be a tougher year for asparagus growers on the processing side,” Meyers said. “We may have to do more of the spear pack, which is a little more difficult to do. It is a little more lucrative. Spears are a stronger commodity than the standard cuts and tips that we have been used to growing for the processed market.
“There will be more of those and people, who have not picked spears before will probably have to start this year,” he said. “Fresh market – we don’t have anything to do with that or setting the price of that – but that’s another option that asparagus growers have in addition to the processed market.
“The fresh market is now over half of Michigan asparagus production, and while we certainly want to keep our processed market, this is a good basis for the fresh market,” Myers said. “Probably more people will have to look at the fresh market as a way to market product than in years past.”
The ability to secure enough labor to harvest the Michigan asparagus crop remains a primary concern.
“Asparagus is very to vulnerable labor,” Myers said. “It’s one of the highest users of labor per acre of any Michigan crops. It’s also the first crop in Michigan that really employs much of any migrant labor. So we have to be more organized. We’re more sensitive to that migrant stream than many of the other agricultural and horticultural industries in Michigan.
“The H2-A program is the asparagus industry’s way of addressing what is becoming a shrinking migrant stream,” he said. “That migrant stream has gotten smaller and smaller to the point that many growers this year are looking at H2-A for the first time. It’s not something they want to do. If they could find local workers they certainly would hire them.
“It’s more expensive to do H2-A – there’s a lot more paperwork in H-2A and a lot higher risk. So we are doing it because we have to, not because it’s something we want to do.”
USDA reported Michigan’s asparagus production totaled 228,000 hundredweight (cwt) in 2015, up 3.6 percent from the previous year. The area harvested for fresh market and processing was 8,900 acres, down 100 acres from 2014. Yield, at 26 cwt per acre, was up 2 cwt per acre from last year. Total value of Michigan’s asparagus production was $19.84 million, down 3.2 percent from 2014.
According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board (MAAB), approximately 120 local Michigan farmers produce approximately 20 million pounds of Michigan asparagus during the state’s 6-7 week harvest. The season begins in early May and ends in mid-to-late June.
MAAB reports Michigan ranks second in the nation for asparagus production thanks to its unique, sandy loam soil. This particular soil, found most often near Michigan’s west coast, is dominated by sand particles, but also contains enough clay and sediment to provide structure and fertility.
— Gary Pullano, associate editor