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Michigan asparagus season winds down

All good things must come to an end, and the frenzy of the Michigan asparagus harvest is no exception. Growers and shippers in Michigan have wrapped up asparagus operations, and consider this year to be a success in spite of weather-related setbacks.apse

After cool spring temperatures brought a late start to the season, many growers were hoping the season would extend beyond the end of June. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. A heat wave during the week of Memorial Day caused asparagus plants to thrive, growing quickly and stretching resources for hand-snapping, cooling and packing. “When the weather gets hot and the spears are growing so quickly, it can be hard to keep up,” said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. “If you can’t keep up, you’ll have to mow the field and lose that part of your harvest. No one wants that.”

The ideal asparagus season will have mild temperatures leading to steady and predictable growth. The heat wave in late May created a spike in growth that taxed the plants, and in the end led to a shorter season than growers had hoped for.

Although abbreviated, the Michigan asparagus season was still a success in terms of volume produced. Packinghouses are reporting that the final yield was only slightly less than what they had expected. Factoring in the late start and shortened duration of the season, that’s quite a feat, and a testament to efficient harvesting and packing.

Aside from weather-related obstacles, the only major setback for Michigan asparagus this season took the form of asparagus shipments from Peru flooding the market. Peru’s asparagus growing operation doesn’t rely on the weather like Michigan’s. Instead, it relies upon irrigation. Peruvian growers can “turn on the water” and harvest the vegetable year-round. This is great news for asparagus lovers, but can be detrimental to Michigan asparagus family farmers who operate within a very limited window of opportunity.

The Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board launched a consumer campaign via social media to educate consumers on the importance of buying U.S.-grown asparagus when it is in season. Emphasizing the impact of buying local when it comes to food miles, freshness, supporting local economies, and protecting the environment, the campaign was wildly successful and generated a more engaged and aware consumer base.

The Advisory Board also used social media giveaways, national PR and engagements with online influencers to generate excitement around Michigan asparagus season and share recipes to keep the product top of mind for consumers. Michigan asparagus was a featured ingredient in two weeklong social media events this season, #BrunchWeek and #BBQWeek. Each event engaged more than 30 food bloggers who shared recipes featuring Michigan asparagus while engaging their readership with facts about Michigan asparagus and giveaways. The season-long partnerships that the advisory board has developed with a smaller group of key online influencers resulted in an amplified reach through blog posts, social media, advertisements, and videos. As consumers connected and engaged with the online content, they remained aware of Michigan Asparagus, its growing season, and new preparations for the vegetable.