Mar 9, 2018
Michigan asparagus industry bumps price for processors

Michigan asparagus growers will ask processors for a modest price increase in 2018.

Growers, researchers and industry officials gathered for Asparagus Day on Thursday, March 8 in New Era, a small town in Oceana County, where most of the crop is grown in sandy soil. Michigan growers have supported an industry referendum for 40 years.

The Michigan Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association (MACMA) will ask processors for $0.77 cash per pound, said Norm Myers of the MACMA Asparagus Division – an increase of one cent per pound. He said the group will ask for $0.785 per pound for sales with delayed payment terms.

Production of processed, packed asparagus has decreased since 2014, from 14 million pounds in 2014 to 9.1 million in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“If we want to keep a processed industry, we can’t have that trend continue,” Myers said during a presentation at Asparagus Day.

More growers are selling fresh asparagus, he said. The total asparagus crop from Michigan was 27.2 million pounds in 2017, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported earlier – putting processed asparagus at roughly one-third of the total amount produced in Michigan. Myers said the consumption of processed asparagus is dropping as consumption of fresh asparagus rises, but the growers also seem to prefer selling fresh.

“If you look at the last two years, almost every processor out there could have and would have taken more asparagus, if they could get it,” Myers said. “We just as an industry did not supply them.”

Myers argued that if the growers don’t support the processing industry, they could lose the industry. He said it was worth keeping. Most processors pay cash on the Friday following delivery, and in some cases during 2017 processors gave a higher return than fresh. Fresh asparagus quality problems such as purple spot and sand can be dealt with by processors.

Myers ended his presentation with a quote from John Bakker of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board (MAAB).

“Michigan is the envy of the world’s asparagus industry because it has both a fresh and processing market,” Bakker said.

On the whole, Michigan’s 2017 crop was up 5.6 percent from 2016, but the year still brought some difficulties.

During 2017, labor remained difficult although more growers used the H-2A work visa program to contract for foreign labor, Myers said. Frost during the first week of harvest, and hot, dry weather in June were also challenges for growers, and there was foreign competition in the fresh market.

Michigan State University Horticulture Professor Bernard Zandstra receives a gift in recognition of his 40 years of service to asparagus growers. With him are Ben Werling, left, and John Bakker. Photos: Stephen Kloosterman

Michigan asparagus turns 40

Growers this year will decide whether to renew the referendum supporting the Michigan Asparagus Industry Development Program, which is overseen by MAAB.

The referendum must be re-approved every five years and 2018 is the 40th year it has been in place. The current referendum expires in June and growers will receive ballots in the mail during April.

In addition to funding promotional campaigns, MAAB funds the Michigan Asparagus Research Farm. Bakker said it’s the only entity of its kind in Michigan that owns, fully funds and operates its own research facility. In addition to referendum dollars, the research farm collects funds through plot fees, raw product sales, grants and asparagus seed sales.

Michigan State University Horticulture Professor Bernard Zandstra, who specializes in weed control, has been advising asparagus industry during those 40 years. He spoke at Asparagus Day about techniques for controlling pigweed, and later during the event was honored for his 40 years of service.

“Honestly, everything I’ve done here is for the service of the growers,” he said. “I don’t expect any credit. I thank you, the growers, that I’ve worked on your farms.”

Stephen Kloosterman, Assistant Editor

Above: Norm Myers of the Michigan Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association’s Asparagus Division speaks at Asparagus in New Era March 8, 2018.

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