Whew! asparagus fields spared from damaging frost.

May 16, 2016

asparagusBy Allison Scarbrough. Editor.

OCEANA COUNTY — Despite the cold weather snap this May, asparagus farmers around the county are “breathing a sigh of relief” after last weekend’s frost threat, said Executive Director of the Michigan Asparagus Council John Bakker.

With a frost warning for Saturday night issued by the National Weather Service and a dusting of snow, asparagus fields were spared from devastating damage. “There was a light frost,” Bakker said, “but no damaging frost.”

The unseasonably cold weather has caused a slow-down of production, however. With the cold temperatures, farmers are not able to harvest their fields as often. “Volumes are down,” Bakker said. “It has dramatically slowed down growth.” Because of that, farmers are unable to meet the market demand, he said, which drives up the fresh market price.

“We are starting to fall behind — there is no doubt about it,” Bakker said.

Tart and sweet cherries were also spared from devastation over the weekend, Bakker said. “There was very little damage.” Cherry production is also falling behind due to the cold weather. Typically, tart cherries are harvested approximately 60 days from full bloom, he said, which is generally July 8-10 in Oceana County. However, the blooms need temperatures in the 60s and 70s so bees will pollinate them.

“We just need to get past Tuesday (when another frost threat looms), and then we should be good to go,” Bakker said.

Larry VanSickle, an asparagus farmer in Elbridge Township, said none of his asparagus froze over the weekend. Although, he awakened to a 30-degree temperature and an asparagus field covered with a dusting of snow Sunday morning. “The whole thing was white,” he said.

Like any farmer, VanSickle was well aware of the frost threat over the weekend. In anticipation of the danger, his fields were “picked down to nothing” Saturday, so his plants would not freeze.

“It’s been a real slow start,” he said. In higher-ground areas, the asparagus is growing, but in lower-ground areas, there is very little growth, he said.

“Every year is different,” VanSickle said. “It was 80 degrees last year right off the bat and one of the best seasons, but we had a shortage of help.”

Last year’s worker shortage caused an economic loss of over $2 million in Oceana County. So far this season, there seems to be an adequate amount of workers.

The date of the first pick can range from April 20 to May 20, VanSickle said. This year, his first harvest was May 9, and last year it was May 7. “The old timers said if you didn’t get it in May, you won’t get it.” Luckily, this year’s cold weather has not caused that outcome.

Oceana County is the largest producer of asparagus in the state, producing approximately 20 million pounds per season. Oceana could very well be the largest asparagus county in the nation based on acreage, but that has not been verified. Oceana County boasts 6,000-7,000 acres of the green veggie and approximately 70 farms. Todd Greiner Farms in Hart is second largest asparagus producer of both fresh and packed asparagus in the state, Bakker said.

Michigan is the second largest producer of asparagus in the U.S., second to California.

Oceana County is home to the National Asparagus Festival, which is set this year for the weekend of June 10-12.

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