Michigan asparagus farmers hope to see higher prices before the crop is harvested later this spring.
Asparagus prices have been affected by imports of the vegetable in recent years.
“Right now we’re just watching the market,” says John Bakker of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. “Who knows, the market could be super by the time that we get into the harvest in May, but we don’t know at this time.”
According to statistics from the USDA, Michigan is one of the top producers of asparagus in the nation. The crop was worth more than $23 million to the Michigan economy last year.
But imports of asparagus went up 46% from 2008 to 2018, according to the USDA.
Bakker says most of that increase came from Mexico and Peru, and it’s caused the price of the vegetable to drop.
Another problem facing Michigan asparagus farmers, according to Bakker, is labor.
There aren’t enough people in the state who are willing to work the fields to harvest asparagus, so farmers have turned to the H-2A visa program to bring in seasonal migrant workers.
“To get asparagus out of the field in Michigan with an H-2A worker is costing a farmer around $20 an hour,” Bakker says. “And surprisingly we cannot find workers that will do the job. And so we’re forced into the program.”
But Bakker says work in the asparagus fields is still available to any Michigander who wants to do it. He says H-2A workers make up about 70 to 75% of the total number of people who help with the state’s asparagus harvest each year.