The Washington/Oregon asparagus industry has experienced significant changes in the last two decades. The acreage in Washington has been steadily declining since its peak of 32,000 acres in 1989. Currently Washington asparagus is produced on approximately 8,000 acres, the fewest farmed since 1971. Acreage reduction has been a direct result of declining asparagus profitability related to other crops, in addition to the increased global competition of imported asparagus coming into the U.S. Washington has primarily been an asparagus-processing state, and farmers received $0.10 per pound more for processed asparagus compared to product for the fresh market. Washington has recently lost its processing market to its foreign competitors further reducing profitability. The final and largest processor is no longer accepting Washington asparagus and is now sourcing its product from Peru.
The entire U.S. asparagus industry is facing increased competition from foreign markets. Since 1994, the U.S. market share of world exports of asparagus has experienced a dramatic decline due to the emergence of Peru and Mexico as producers. Although U.S. production in 2008 was down nearly 15 percent from 2007, both Peru and Mexico are experiencing increased or steady production. Despite the decline in U.S. production, total utilization (consumption) steadily increases annually.
Foreign production is affecting the domestic asparagus market. In 2008, the United States imported 136,168 metric tons of fresh asparagus, up from 81,762 metric tons in 2002. Mexico and Peru accounted for nearly 98.5 percent of U.S. imports: Peru leads with 76,793 metric tons and Mexico follows with 57,334 metric tons. Both countries benefit by trade agreements implemented by the U.S. for Mexico, a preferential tariff through NAFTA, while Peruvian-produced asparagus benefits from duty-free access through the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA). To compete with the foreign supplies that come from these countries that have extremely low-paid labor, it is paramount that the Washington/Oregon and Michigan asparagus industries lower per-unit costs through labor-saving technology or increase their revenue through value-added products.
The proposed research will focus on engineering, horticultural, pathological, and economic studies to address the primary goal of achieving economic sustainability of the fresh market asparagus industry in the United States.
The specific objectives are:
<OL> <LI> Improving the productivity of asparagus fields, to reduce the costs of production per pound through alternative production and harvesting (mechanical) scenarios using less labor or using labor more efficiently;
<LI> Assessing the state of knowledge for food safety interventions in the asparagus industry;
<LI> Developing and delivering a sustainable asparagus miner management program;
<LI> Examining the economics of mechanical harvesting of asparagus;
<LI> Examining the market demand for organic asparagus; and
<LI> Exploring the horticultural issues associated with direct seed of asparagus fields.
APPROACH: To accomplish the objectives of the proposed research, scientists with established credentials working with asparagus and related crops were solicited to propose projects that would address the specific objectives.
The Principal Investigator worked closely with the Washington and Michigan Asparagus Commissions to ensure the relevance of the projects and the relative priority among them for funding. All projects were submitted to a non-conflicted scientific peer review.
Because of the short seasonality of asparagus production, we request that use of these funds be authorized beginning with April 1, 2010.
Distribution of results to the industry will be accomplished through field days, written reports, presentations to the relevant asparagus commissions, and publication in peer-reviewed journals.