Asparagus season looking healthy

Harvested asparagus. Photo: NZAC
Harvested asparagus. Photo: NZAC
Spring has sprung. The asparagus is here.

Along with daffodils, the arrival of the green spears on the shelves heralds the return of warmer days.

New Zealand Asparagus Council chairman Mike Arnold said about 40 growers spread throughout the country were looking forward to bringing their 2019 crop to market.

It was looking like a bumper crop this year. There was ''at least'' a 10% increase in volume this season as newer blocks started to produce higher yields.

That would push the combined crop from around 1800 tonnes to around 2000 tonnes, from around 570ha of planted product.

The council says early production is snapped up quickly and about 95% of New Zealand-grown asparagus sold locally.

The remainder is exported to markets such as Japan and Singapore.

Key growing areas include Waikato, central lower North Island and Canterbury.

The most southerly grower is found at Palmerston Asparagus, which has 4.5ha planted.

Farm owners Rod Philip and Nicola Holmes have been growing and selling asparagus for the past 30 years.

Mr Philip said while they had tried fresh export, canning and freezing, these days they sold the majority of their product through the Otago Farmers Market and at the farm gate, in half or one kilogram bunches.

The majority of asparagus is sold in 250g bunches, and early-season prices are around the $4.99kg level at major supermarkets.

Mr Philip said he expected his crop to head to market around mid-October, as a result of cold weather.

''But once they're available, they don't hang around long. Particularly since I think people have a better understanding of their health benefits these days.''

Chairman of The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust David Smith, said contemporary studies of the nutritional content of asparagus show it was a great source of dietary fibre and folate, a source of a range of vitamins such as niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamins B6, C and K, and a ''significant amount'' of potassium.

The council said recent research also suggested asparagus could help control type-two diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels and increasing insulin levels.

Asparagus also reputedly contains enzymes that break down alcohol, so a healthy serving of asparagus before a night out could be the secret to a clear head the following day.

With a limited season, fresh asparagus is generally available from September to December.

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