Early picking lifts asparagus prospects

Warm weather has seen crops already in supermarkets raising hopes of an improved season.

Asparagus growers are feeling "cautiously optimistic" as an early start to the season bodes well for the coming months.

The warm spring weather has been kind to asparagus meaning that growers across the country were able to start harvesting the uncovered crop on average a week earlier than last year.

The majority of growers began picking at least a week ago - ahead of tomorrow's official start date to the season on St George's Day.

Grower John Chinn in the Wye Valley began harvesting his crop for Marks & Spencer as early as the end of March - with 20 tonnes of asparagus arriving onto the supermarket shelves during the first week of April.

It follows the harvesting of the UK's protected asparagus crops - many of which were also early this year.

The situation strikes a contrast with last year when cold weather at the start of the season led the crop to develop slowly. The knock-on effect was that growers had to stop cutting earlier than they would have liked - which in turn meant that their returns were 15 per cent less than the previous year.

A representative for the Asparagus Growers Association said: "We have experienced warm weather unseasonably early, but that unfortunately doesn't mean that it's here to stay. If the sun stays out, so will the asparagus, but if the weather cools, so will the production, in general terms."

What the growers say

Paul Creasy of Rushford Hall near Thetford, Norfolk, supplies asparagus to traders at New Spitalfields Market. He said: "Last year our first small cut was on 22 April. This year we were at least 10 days sooner. While new varieties play a part in the earlier season, the weather must also have an effect as some of the beds we are cutting have been in for seven or more years. But an early start to the season could mean an early finish. We found at the end of last season that the stuff was coming out of the ground and seeding. Who knows - we might have a very long season, which will be fantastic. It will also be interesting to see what happens next year as the seasons tend to balance themselves out."

AGA chairman Andy Allen, who farms 61ha of asparagus in Norfolk, said: "We started cutting the open crop at the end of last week. This is about a week earlier than last year. But it's turned cold again now - the weather changes by the minute - so I am not sure how the season will pan out. As always, I am cautiously optimistic."

Stephen McGuffie of Lichfield in Staffordshire told Grower he started harvesting during the weekend of 9-10 April. "We've had some good cuts already from the south-facing fields. If the crop that we grow under tunnels is an indication of the potential of the crop on the fields then we will have a bit of a better season than last year."

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