HART, Mich. — About half of all Michigan asparagus shipped in 2014 could be marketed fresh.
Andy NelsonA big push for locally-grown by Michigan retailers is one of the reasons for a recent surge in demand for Michigan asparagus, said Tim Spiech, co-owner of Paw Paw, Mich.-based Spiech Farms. Returns to the state's asparagus growers have doubled in the past five years, he said. Spiech Farms and others began shipping the week of May 12.That’s a big turnaround from just a few years ago, when close to 90% of the state’s asparagus went to processing markets, said John Bakker, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.
“Last year was 40% fresh, which was up from 30% the year before that,” Bakker said. “I don’t think we’ll get to 50/50 this year, but it will likely be 40-45%.”
About 80% of the asparagus shipped by Hart, Mich.-based Todd Greiner Farms this year will likely go to fresh markets, said Todd Greiner, the company’s chief executive officer.
“Fresh has been growing substantially every year,” he said. “We’re seeing demand pick up pretty quickly this year.”
Tim Spiech, co-owner of Paw Paw, Mich.-based Spiech Farms, said that due to surging demand, buyers have been willing to pay more for fresh asparagus in recent years.
Processors, by contrast, can’t raise prices, which steers more product to the fresh market, he said.
Demand for locally-grown product has benefited asparagus more than it has other Michigan commodities, Spiech said.
“Every year we see double-digit growth. Our returns to growers have doubled in the past five years.”
Production in southern Michigan began about May 5, with shipments in the Hart area following about May 12, Bakker said. Volumes should start peaking about May 25, in time to take advantage of Memorial Day pull, he said.
The Hart deal was running close to two weeks later than normal due to unseasonably cool weather, Bakker said.
About 80% of Michigan asparagus ships from Hart, 20% from the south, he said.
Production in Hart was off to a strong start, Bakker said.
“I’ve never seen a heavier first harvest than we’ve had this year,” he said.