New system extends asparagus season

Family farm makes breakthrough to supply crop beyond the traditional eight-week spring harvest.

A family business has become the only grower in the UK to offer retailers asparagus outside the traditional spring harvesting time.

Cobrey Farm, which grows 350ha of the vegetable near the River Wye in south Herefordshire, calls its technique the "reverse season" system.

It extends the eight-week season to around 14 by adding a few weeks either side, the Chinn family explained.

Chris Chinn, who grows the plant with his father John, mother Gay and brother Henry, reckoned the business would supply all Marks & Spencer asparagus within three years. It currently supplies the retailer with a quarter, the rest being imported.

"Rather than cutting off spears in spring, we allow them to grow into ferns as early as possible so they feed the roots throughout the spring and summer," said Chris. "We then chop off the ferns and harvest new spears as they come through in the autumn."

Cobrey Farm started growing asparagus eight years ago, he said. "We were looking for a crop that was ripe for innovation and change having seen what happened with strawberry. New growing techniques and varieties changed the fruit drastically."

He added: "If we can get UK asparagus to grow sustainably at other times of the year it means customers can replace imports. This is great for carbon footprints and other sustainability issues."

The Chinn Family Method 'It's not rocket science'

The Chinn family uses polythene cloches, south-facing slopes, earlyand long-season varieties and precise feeding and watering of the plants.

And by cutting out the import route, they saved 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide flying the product from Peru, reckons John Chinn.

Chris Chinn, who declined to give details of the main variety or technique, said: "This is not rocket science but is completely new as far as I'm aware. From a retailer's perspective, this is absolutely brand new - there's no other UK asparagus produced outside spring for retailers."

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