Dutch farmers fear they will not be able to sell their bumper asparagus crops after an unusually warm spring pushed production up and prices down.
Growers have pulled the covers off their fields of white asparagus to slow growth and have been looking to increase consumption and flexibility in the supply chain to deal with the oversupply.
The Netherlands’ growing season for white asparagus is just six to 10 weeks from April to June and growers use techniques such as double covering their fields to trap heat and get an earlier start.
But this year’s extra heat has accelerated production.
Twenty two farmers have grouped together in the Asparagus Guild to find new technology to cut costs. They are also hoping to increase consumption by selling on the roadside, in farm shops and
asparagus vending machines.
Frans Beumers grows asparagus in greenhouses, so started in February.
He said: “There is indeed over production this year.
“Because of the good weather, the asparagus grow faster. Through plastic management, we can try to slow down the process a bit. But when temperatures reach 30°C, it gets more difficult.”
Greater production also increases the need for workers, with harvesting asparagus being labour intensive, meaning farmers will be left with costs if their crop remains unsold.
It was estimated automating picking could cut harvesting costs by 40-50 per cent, with the latest agritech expected to be available for next year’s harvest.
RaboResearch fruit and vegetable analyst Cindy van Rijswick said prices had already been falling for many weeks and increased consumption could boost them, but supermarkets were not flexible enough.
The short shelf life of asparagus was also causing problems, because there was not enough capacity to handle the overabundance. Ms van Rijswick said: “Supermarkets have scheduled their promotions in advance and do not quickly adapt to the market situation..
“If too many asparagus are available, prices go down. If the best AA-grade asparagus are selling at lower prices, then the D-grade or lowest quality might not be sold at all.”
She also suggested there was untapped potential for asparagus
promotion as part of a healthy diet, but white asparagus was ‘time consuming’ to prepare because it had to be peeled.
This has led growers to invest in peeling machines, allowing the asparagus to be sold pre-peeled for the convenience of shoppers.