From a market perspective, we continue to see a rise in the consumption of green asparagus. On the other hand, white asparagus remains a staple in parts of Northern Europe. It will be very interesting to see how the consumption of white asparagus develops in these locations over the next 5-10 years. Several years ago, I remember how it was expected that the white asparagus market was expected to decline in relative terms due to the fact that the green type is far easier to prepare in the kitchen. The reality is that this has not really happened. However, there have been additional challenges this year in terms of consumer demand. Let’s hope that these are a short-term issue rather than the start of a longer-term trend.
A further aspect where there have been recent market developments has been with respect to packaging. Indeed, there have been visible differences this year in terms of how some asparagus is being packaged and presented on retailer shelves. The most “radical” of these is the re-emergence of asparagus bundles with no more packaging materials other than two rubber bands. This method is not only a step forward in terms of reducing plastic, but the bundles also look great and allow the consumer to see all of what they are purchasing. Further, I have seen more recycled cardboard on supermarket shelves, again taking the place of single-use plastics.
In most developed nations where asparagus consumption is common, seasonality remains a very important aspect. Those countries that produce, import and consume asparagus always see an increase in asparagus eating during the domestic season. In many locations, this is in spite of an increase in purchase cost for the consumer. Local asparagus almost always means fresher asparagus and therefore, an improved eating experience. In order for the global asparagus market to grow in the future, I see this local asparagus production and consumption dynamic to continue to be important. The flipside advantage of this is that there is a largely unexploited opportunity to develop domestic consumption in some of the world’s largest asparagus exporting countries. In berries for example, we have started to see this phenomenon develop and I think it could be an important component in the future in terms of growing the global asparagus market too.
The 2022 asparagus harvest in the Northern Hemisphere season has also been characterised by some extreme yield patterns. Although not entirely unusual, such events do seem to be becoming more prevalent in recent times. On a trip to Ontario in Canada early in the asparagus season, I bore witness to the aftermath of a huge surge in production and harvest. This was brought about by several consecutive days of temperatures in excess of 30C. In some fields, yields of circa 1t/ha were recorded in a single day. Overall, the industry was not able to cope with such a ramp up in volume and indeed, many fields had to be mown down in order to let the crop come again.
On the flipside to this, in many parts of North and Central Europe, the season started off well with a moderately early first harvest date and good temperatures in the early weeks. Then, all of a sudden at the end of May, there was a rapid decline in daily harvested volumes. These levels have returned to more or less stability later in June, but overall, there has been a substantial reduction compared to yield expectations. It is thought that the principal cause of this declination in mid-season yield was as a result of lower sunshine levels in August 2021, leading to a subsequent reduction in internal plant carbohydrate accumulation.
As in many areas of the contemporary fresh produce business, the availability and quality of labour continues to be a global issue in asparagus. Labour shortages only exacerbate issues in fluctuating seasonal harvest levels. There continues to be good work taking place in the research and development of mechanised harvesters, both in green and white asparagus production. The industry is calling out even more strongly for these machines to be ready for on-farm use, so we will continue to watch out for these developments in the coming years.
We have recently attended the 15th International Asparagus Symposium held in Córdoba, Spain. It was a great opportunity to both connect again with many members of the global asparagus community, as well as to learn of the latest developments in scientific research going into the asparagus crop. There are so many opportunities to make improvements production, distribution and marketing and the deep research into new practices is in very safe hands for the future.
Stay tuned to us here at Global Plant Genetics to hear of our upcoming developments when it comes to asparagus hybrids and seeds.