In NZ, Asparagus farmers face ‘terrible, devastating’ times with low local demand, no exports

11 Nov 2021

Asparagus farmers face ‘terrible, devastating’ times with low local demand, no exports

6:20 pm on 11 November 2021

Asparagus growers are having their worst growing season in decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars are being wiped off their bottom lines.

Asparagus growing in Horowhenua

Asparagus take five to seven years to produce spears. Photo: Supplied

More than 100 hectares of asparagus are being left unpicked this season.

With restaurants in Auckland and Waikato closed, or scaled back, and supermarket sales sluggish, local demand has plummeted.

Exports, which in the past have absorbed some of the production, are non-existent.

In one of New Zealand’s key growing regions Waikato, up to a third of the crop, 50 hectares is being left to fern up.

Grower Alec Boyd said the season started off really well but now the market was flooded.

He said so that local prices do at least cover production costs, they were not picking everything they could.

“A lot of growers won’t be making much money, if any money at all. I know of two growers who have closed their crop up because there’s not enough profit in it. You normally pick through until Christmas.

“There’s no export at all”, he said, “there’s no money in it, it’s not profitable at all”, he said.

He said Australia was exporting asparagus to Japan but with labour costs and other issues it was not worth New Zealand being in that market.

In past years Japan was a high paying lucrative market for New Zealand growers with early crop, but in more recent years the volume of exports from New Zealand have dropped significantly.

Boyd said the financial hit would be heavy but he had been in business a long time so would definitely survive.

It is a similar story in the other major growing area Horowhenua.

Tendertips Asparagus co-owner Cam Lewis said they are also leaving 50 hectares unharvested.

He said it is an absolute disaster of a year.

“Our family has been growing asparagus for 40 years this year, and it’s easily the worst season we’ve ever experienced.

“We’ve walked away from 20 percent of our asparagus completely several weeks ago, and then of what we’ve got left, we’re currently mowing 50 percent of that because we just can’t sell it and there’s no point even picking it.

“Obviously financially it’s pretty devastating and has removed many noughts from our bottom line compared with what we were taking in last season,” he said.

The huge cut in harvesting has also meant Tendertips having to tell a lot of people they would not have work this season.

“We’d normally have 50 people working here if we were humming at our normal level. So it is having pretty wide reaching consequences really,” he said.

“Terrible isn’t it.”

But because they are only mowing some of the crop, rather than letting it “fern up”, they could start picking it again.

“[Mowing] takes it out for about 10 days probably. And that’s a reflection on how farmers and growers are wired, we probably should be letting it go to fern but we’re the eternal optimists always saying, ‘shall we mow it, maybe it will be better next week?'” he laughed.

Cam Lewis said if they decided this buying pattern was the new norm and they ploughed crop in, they could get caught out if selling suddenly came right.

Asaparagus take five to seven years to produce spears so there would be a long delay to supply.

“There are challenging calls to make. We don’t know what we are going to do,” he said.