Asparagus farmers face weather challenges.

May 18, 2021

Asparagus farmers face weather challenges.

#TheLand is a series telling the stories about local agriculture. It is a presentation of Peterson Farms, Inc.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Oceana County is the top producer of asparagus in Michigan, and Michigan is the leading producer in the country.

With the annual asparagus season underway, farmers are battling with Mother Nature. First it was frost, and now heat and drought could be obstacles, said John Bakker, manager of the Michigan Asparagus Industry Research Farm.

Workers pick asparagus in a field outside of Hart.

“We appear to be past the frost season, but now we worry about heat and drought,” said Bakker. “We lost asparagus in nightly freezes, which affected about 10 percent of the crop, but there is still an opportunity to have a decent crop. It’s bad, but it’s not devastating.”

There is the potential for 2 million pounds statewide lost due to frost, he said. “Oceana and Mason counties had significant crop injury.”

“If we stay dry and hot, we could be in trouble.” Heat and lack of rain could potentially take 20 percent of the crop. “That could have a bigger effect, because the quality goes down.”

Despite the weather challenges, local farmers are busily harvesting their crops. “We could have a harvest of one million pounds today (May 18) in Oceana and Mason counties.

“Right now, the fresh market is good, and processed prices are about the same as last year.

Fortunately, frost is not as devastating to asparagus as it is to fruit trees. “There is still crop coming up over a six to eight period that is tucked safely under the ground.” Whereas, fruit flowers are fully exposed to the elements.

Despite challenges last season created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 crop was fairly successful, he said. With a market value at an all-time low and a serious worker shortage, farmers tackled tough obstacles. Restaurant closures had a big impact. “We ended up with a pretty good season last year,” he said. Right now, it’s too early to tell how COVID-19 will impact this season.

“Right now, this year we think we’re in OK shape. Restaurant sales are going up.”

Another challenge has been international competition. “Last year, there was pressure from Peru and Mexico undercutting (the price). We think there may be less of the product coming from those countries now.”

Government food box distribution programs are helping the industry as well. “The US government is buying more frozen and canned products.” 

Oceana County is home to the National Asparagus Festival. Last year it was cancelled due to the pandemic, and this year it has been drastically downsized. Last year’s event would have been the 47th annual NAF. This year, organizers are still holding the Asparagus Queen Banquet and the Ryan Walsworth Spear It 5K race (which has virtual and in-person options to attend), but the popular Joan Glover Royale Parade has been cancelled.

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