Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 1, 2014

Asparagus grower optimistic despite harsh winter

HONOR — Harry Norconk peers across his snowy farm fields and knows his asparagus crop won’t be coming in early this year.

That doesn’t bother him a bit.

“That could be a good thing,” Norconk said. “A late spring for us could bring our crop in behind Mexico’s. We don’t always overlap, but when we do, it can have a negative affect on our fresh market prices.”

Competition from a bumper crop in Mexico is keeping asparagus prices extremely low this season. But by the time harvest begins in Michigan, Mexico’s crop will be winding down, and asparagus farmers in Michigan received some good news recently: the Asparagus Division of the Michigan Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association negotiated a one-cent increase in price-per-pound with Michigan asparagus processors for 2014.

That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a big deal for farmers like Norconk.

“We had a nice increase last year and we increased to 79 cents this year,” said Ken Nye, executive director of the agricultural agency’s Asparagus Division. “It allows growers to have enthusiasm going into the season and shows our industry is still pretty strong even though we’ve had competition from around the world.”

“There’s a real demand for Michigan asparagus, both fresh and processed. We’re able to sell everything we produce and we could sell more if we had it,” Nye said.

Norconk has 35 acres of producing asparagus on his farm near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He is one of the larger asparagus producers in the region.

“I’ve been growing asparagus here since 1978,” he said. “I sell about 60 percent fresh locally and about 30 to 40 percent to processors.”

Norconk has witnessed the market fluctuate dramatically. In recent years, he’s been able to sell all he grows and he’s encouraged by the increase in the price-per-pound with processors.

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