Horticulture

Asparagus Production

Asparagus ProductionAsparagus is a perennial crop that lends itself well to small-scale and part-time farming operations. Multiple markets exist for growers with five acres or less, and many field operations such as land preparation and planting, which require machinery, can be custom hired.

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae) and is one of a few vegetables that are monocots (plants having only one cotyledon or seed leaf).

Both male and female flowers are produced on the older asparagus varieties, but there are very few to no female flowers produced on the newer all-male hybrid varieties. Spears are generally harvested when they are 7 or 9 inches in length and are generally green in color. A new purple spear variety has been developed by plant breeders.

Excluding light when spears are emerging will produce blanched or white spears.
Asparagus is believed to be indigenous to parts of Russia, the Mediterranean region, and the British Isles. It was first cultivated by the early Romans who used the asparagus for food and medicinal purposes. It was cultivated in England at the time of Christ and brought to America by the early colonists. However, asparagus was not extensively planted by commercial growers until after 1850.

Most of the asparagus harvested in the U.S. is sold as fresh produce. In 1998, the U.S. produced 74,930 acres of asparagus with a value of $167 million. (USDA Statistical Services bases value of production on total acres harvested times average price.) Pennsylvania produced 500 acres, valued at $2.5 million.

Marketing

Asparagus is available in Pennsylvania annually from late April through June. It is traditionally sold in pyramid crates packed with 1.5 to 2.5 bunches held with a rubber band. Five basic marketing alternatives are available to the asparagus grower: wholesale marketing, cooperatives, local retailers, roadside stands, and pick-your-own operations.

In wholesale marketing, producers often contract with shippers to market and ship asparagus for a predetermined price. If you do not use a contractor and ship your asparagus to a wholesale market yourself, your product will be subject
to the greatest price fluctuations. Marketing cooperatives generally use a daily pooled cost and price, which spreads price fluctuations over all participating producers. Local retailers are another possible market, but you must take the
time to contact produce managers and provide good-quality asparagus when stores require it.

Roadside stands (either your own or another grower’s) and pick-your-own operations provide opportunities to receive higher than wholesale prices for your asparagus, but you may have some additional expenses for advertising, building and maintaining a facility, and providing service to your customers. With pick-your-own operations, you save on harvest costs, but you must be willing to accept some waste. Depending on your location, processors may or may not be a marketing option. Processors are less likely to contract with small-acreage growers (those with less than 5 acres).

For more information on marketing, consult Agricultural Alternatives: Fruit and
Vegetable Marketing for Small-Scale and Part-Time Growers.

This publication was developed by the Small-Scale and Part-Time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service.

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