- Vegetables: asparagus
- Crop Production: continuous cropping, double cropping
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, whole farm planning
- Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
- Pest Management: cultural control, field monitoring/scouting
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Soil Management: soil chemistry, organic matter
- Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities
A study of the viability of dual season organic asparagus crops in the coastal region of South Carolina determined that this is a feasible operation. Although costs for organic production are high, demand for this crop is also high. The ability to manipulate fall harvesting by time and quantity is especially advantageous for specific local markets. This study showed that both spring and fall harvested organic asparagus are possible and that asparagus is a desirable crop for the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia.
South Carolina was once the largest producer of asparagus and asparagus was one of the largest cash crops in the state in the 1930’s. In subsequent years New Jersey, Delaware and California were able to capture the market largely due to lower transportation costs to large metropolitan areas. As northern populations migrate to the south, and transportation costs continue to increase, a window of opportunity opens to South Carolina growers to resurrect the market for asparagus. As many as 10,000 acres of asparagus were cultivated in South Carolina in the early part of the 1900’s. Presently it is estimated that less than 25 acres are cultivated for commercial production in the state of South Carolina.
With resort communities flourishing along the coastal areas of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, farming communities paralleling this coastal band can take advantage of lower transportation costs and the demand from more sophisticated and affluent consumers for local and organic produce.
Southern coastal growers adjacent to urban and resort communities have not taken full advantage of the increased demand for local and organic farm products. New markets becoming available to growers must be pursued to take advantage of this opportunity to bring higher quality produce to consumers. As development pressures push further inland from coastal areas, traditional farming communities are less inclined to continue farming and more inclined to abandon farming in favor of selling of farmland to real estate development interests. With an understanding of changing markets and the innovation of new crops, this trend could be replaced by one which expands opportunities in farming.
After the award of this SARE grant (2009), economic changes have drastically affected the coastal economies of the area. Assumptions of development pressures have been altered as the economy has slowed. However, interest in healthy home prepared meals has increased demand for local organic foods. The number of farmers markets where farmers sell directly to consumers has tripled in the study area (Bluffton/Hilton Head/Beaufort ) thus making the direct retail market for farmers more accessible and has allowed farmers to increase production for this more lucrative market.
Dual season organic production of asparagus is a good choice for farmers in the coastal areas of the Southeast where mild winters present a long growing season. Results from this study indicate that one or two seasons of market may be more economically favorable by virtue of production and market constraints.
The intensive labor requirements of organic asparagus production are high, but fresh, organic asparagus commands a high price at the retail level. Due to increased fuel and energy costs in the present (and anticipated in the future), a clear competitive advantage has been created for the markets for asparagus in the areas near the farm operation.
Because asparagus is a particularly perishable crop, the ability to time the quantity of second harvest or a fall harvest is very desirable. Timing harvest will reduce refrigeration needs as well as reduce the chance for deterioration in refrigeration. Reduced refrigeration time not only limits the chance of deterioration, it also produces a superior tasting product which is appreciated my most consumers as well as sophisticated chefs who want to offer more local and organic produce to their menus.
In this study, two problems were simultaneously evaluated. First, the viability of dual season organic production of asparagus and secondly, evaluating dual season markets for organically produced asparagus.
The study’s performance targets were first to produce asparagus using organic methods and determine if this crop could be viable using organic methods. This would be evaluated by visual and laboratory tests of tissue samples to determine the health of the plants.
The second part, the marketability of asparagus in dual seasons would be tested by actual sales. Whether or not organic asparagus would be economically practical would be determined by actual sales and evaluating costs associated with production.
Because of the labor intensive requirements of asparagus production, whether conventional or organic, the production costs for these do not vary as vastly as other conventional crops. Therefore, this organic crop is ideal for competing with its conventional counterpart.
In recent years Clemson University has undertaken research to improve cultivation of conventional asparagus using trial gardens This effort has produced research data for use by growers.
This research, while invaluable, cannot be directly applied to organic production. Therefore, studies using organic methods must be field tested. Market testing using real conditions is invaluable for determining the viability of markets