Asparagus farmers hope to overcome flood problems before harvest

Asparagus grows in horoinua. image file.
picture: supplied

The asparagus harvest season has just begun, but some farmers’ fields are still partially underwater due to recent floods.

It is hoped this season will outperform last year, when only a third of the spears were harvested as Covid shutdowns disrupted restaurant trade until Christmas.

Cam Lewis of Tendertips Asparagus in Horowhenua said they prepped their packaging last week, but had to get to the product first.

“There are still quite a few underwater pastures left at the moment, but we’re hoping for a good spring,” he said.

“Last spring was tough, so we hope we can serve up a lot of asparagus for consumers who have been patiently waiting for it.

“It’s usually a sign that spring has come, when the asparagus is on the shelves.”

Like farmers across the sector, Lewis said chronic labor shortages have had a negative impact on productivity and morale.

He said the staff shortage this year was the worst ever.

“It was definitely the most challenging season ever in terms of people,” Lewis said.

“We thought last year was tough, with Covid, but it looks like shaping this year will be even more difficult.”

Lewis said they are waiting to see if they have enough staff to process their products, but are afraid they will run out.

“We’re optimistic, but with full employment all around, it’s hard for Kiwis to decide to leave a full-time job to work in a seasonal job like ours.

“Hopefully more backpackers will arrive and the government will continue to support the RSE scheme, but we’ll be right, when there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Despite the challenges, all of their suppliers should have asparagus on their shelves by the end of the month, Lewis said.

Meanwhile, one of the largest farmers in the country, Waikato-based Boyds Asparagus, said this season has started slowly with rainy and cool weather, but is expected to increase.

Managing Director Andrew Kenny said by Labor Weekend last year that they had stopped cutting 125 hectares of their 180 hectare crop.

He said they’ve spent the past six months working on a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the seasonal vegetable, after research showed that many New Zealanders hadn’t tried it.

“Some New Zealanders think it’s an unusual looking vegetable, or they don’t really know what to do with it,” he said.

“We encourage people to try it. It can be eaten raw, it can be fried on a grill, blanched in a saucepan, sauteed in a skillet with a little olive oil and a little Parmesan cheese and sprinkled on top.”

“I would argue that it is probably one of the most convenient and versatile vegetables at this time of year, so we encourage people to give it a try and try different things with it.”

Kenny said some consumers grew up with parents who “boiled live daylight from our vegetables until they were puree.”

“I think part of the reason some of the younger generation don’t try a lot of the vegetables out there now, but certainly for me, it’s quick crab in the pot and it goes away.”

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