Asparagus growing under threat

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Dairy farm popularity could spell the end of affordability of Kiwi-grown vege. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dairy farm popularity could spell the end of affordability of Kiwi-grown vege. Photo / Babiche Martens

Asparagus could become unaffordable and hard to come by within just a few years if the expansion of dairy farms continues at its present rate.

The antioxidant-rich superfood was down to $2.50 a bunch at most grocery stores last week, but Horticulture New Zealand spokeswoman Leigh Catley said growers were looking for ways to make more money from their land - and the answer was often dairying.

"The competition for productive land is enormous. It wouldn't take more than a couple of dairy farms to have a huge impact," she said.

New Zealand's "Mr Asparagus" Peter Falloon said the steady shift over the last decade in the central North Island was particularly worrying.

"They used to have 800ha [of asparagus growing] in the Waikato and now it's down to 200. In the Bay of Plenty, it's down to 10ha," he said.

"People just want to do dairy."

In the absence of local asparagus, supermarkets would fill the shelves with imports, Falloon predicted.

"It looks like asparagus but it tastes like cardboard. Imported asparagus is picked before it's fully developed and the vegetable draws on its existing sugar supply in an effort to grow."

Falloon, who has been growing the vegetable since 1979, said land was much more affordable in the South Island and the Asparagus Council was hoping to lure southerners into the business.

It was not a bad lifestyle, he added, with just 100 days of hard work each spring during the harvest.

"The rest of the year, there's little to do," he said.

- Herald on Sunday

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