Asparagus grower Geoff Lewis deals with the worst growing year in 36 years

Tendertips owner Geoff Lewis says the rain has put the delicacy in short supply.
DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

Tendertips owner Geoff Lewis says the rain has put the delicacy in short supply.

This season has been the hardest year for growing and harvesting asparagus in Geoff Lewis' 36 years in the industry.

The Horowhenua grower said the constant rain had put harvesting and packing behind where it would usually be.

"The water table is full and it only takes a small amount of rain to cause water to sit on top of the ground. Some parts of the asparagus fields are totally under water. 

Asparagus stocks are down from continuous rain.
DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

Asparagus stocks are down from continuous rain.

"The impact of this saturation on the health of the plants is unknown at this stage. The greatest concern, is the amount of phytopthera, a fungal disease caused by soil saturation. This disease causes the plants to rot under the ground."

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Lewis and his family own the Tendertips asparagus farms and packhouse, situated between Foxton and Levin in Horowhenua.

Tendertips had farms for supply at various blocks around the region and the geographical spread of crops and soil types provided some protection against isolated climatic events.

But it had not stopped the impact of the widespread rain, which had fallen throughout the North Island.

Lewis said spring had come late for the asparagus crop and the delicacy wasn't as widespread in markets as a result.

He said shops and supermarkets which Tendertips supplied were "on rations", as asparagus stocks were lower than orders.

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"They would like to do promotions, but until volumes increase I know we'll run out."

Tendertips' fresh export programme to Japan was not affected at this stage as exports normally started in late October

Tendertips has been unable to employ the seasonal workers it normally has in its teams because of the wet.

"We are running at about half the staff we would normally have at this stage of the harvest," Lewis said. 

"The business builds up to a total workforce of 150 workers. The wet was particularly hard on the harvest teams as they often had to harvest in the rain."

Lewis said his 26 Recognised Seasonal Employees had arrived from Samoa, and were doing limited work. Most staff employed for picking and packing asparagus were New Zealanders.

 At the asparagus packhouse the spears are washed, trimmed and graded. Then they are stored in chillers at two degrees Celsius, before being transported for sale.

He said the wet weather had hit all vegetables in Horowhenua, with many growers unable to get on wet soil to manage and harvest their crops.

Damp paddocks are so bad that in some areas vegetables were rotting in the ground.

As a result, most vegetables were more expensive this season, than last.

Manawatū potato grower Terry Olsen said digging in wet conditions was hard on people, machines and the soil which could compact under vehicles.

He said fine weather had dried out some paddocks, but there had been little wind and rain lately had made paddocks wet again.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said consumers needed to understand that lower than normal supplies impacted on availability and cost.

"We find that when people get to the shops and see higher than expected prices for vegetables, they don't necessarily understand why that is.

"Our growers use very sophisticated farming techniques to manage as many environmental factors as they can, but something like hail at the wrong time or rainfall of a metre more than previous years cannot always be mitigated."

 - Stuff

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