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Italy: Growing interest in mechanisation for the asparagus world

The 2016/17 asparagus campaign saw an increase in the use of mechanical transplants. Over 1 million roots were planted thanks to a unique transplanting machine. With one single operation, it makes a hole, places pipes for underground or surface irrigation, plants roots and covers them with 10 cm of soil.

Extra car. asparagus roots (photo by Vivai Coviro)

"This is very interesting," commented Luciano Trentini who, together with Officine F.lli Mingozzi, is working on new agronomic and mechanisation techniques to improve the productivity of asparagus while reducing costs. In this second year of activity, the machine has been employed outside the region as well in Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Lazio. 

"According to our analyses, four operators plus a driver can plant between 25,000 and 35,000 roots in 8 hours (approx. 3-4,000 an hour). Of course, the fact that fewer people are needed means savings up to 25-30%."

Simple row transplanter (photo by Luciano Trentini)

But this is not the only advantage, as this technique enables us to reduce the trampling caused by the machinery that carry roots, make holes and re-close them. There is no doubt that mechanical sowing in a soil that has been well prepared and not trampled is the best way to obtain a rapid vegetative re-growth in spring.

"This year we will also introduce a machine capable of planting double rows 15 cm apart in a quincunx pattern. This is part of a new proposal to widen the distance between rows."

Double row transplanter available from 2017-18 (photo by Luciano Trentini)

This innovative aspect can lead to new scenarios for green asparagus as well. Widths up to 3 metres between rows have the main objective of favouring airing, reducing the risk of harmful pathogens such as rust and purple spot, which are hard to eliminate especially in thick crops with vigorous varieties. 

Not just mechanical transplants

Combined with mechanisation, asparagus cultivation can also be improved with flame weeding. Weeds are eliminated as well as potential inocula of pathogens and insects. By equipping the flame weeder with a mulcher, vegetation at the end of the annual cycle can be eliminated with a single operation. 

Mulcher installed on a flame weeder to disinfect the soil and eliminate vegetation residues (Photo by Luciano Trentini)

New techniques that avoid using chemicals are the first step towards the cultivation of organic asparagus. Only a few do it in Italy while they are more popular in France, Belgium and Germany where consumer demand is increasing.

"But there is more, as we have new products to prepare the soil before planting. A piece of equipment designed purposely to work the soil 50-60 cm deep and that can mix it distributing the fertilising substances used in the surface. This is particularly effective in case of crops where rows are at least 2 metres apart."

New equipment to work the soil and favour root development. Available in spring 2018

"This operation leads to improved soil aeration, reducing the risk of water stagnation. In addition, a better and deeper root development reduces the annual raising (form 3 o 1.5 cm a year) of the root crown."

Officine Mingozzi opted for hiring the equipment, as transplant and soil working machines are only used when planting crops (which can last up to ten years).

Luciano Trentini concluded by saying that these innovations were made possible thanks to the collaboration with Officine Mengozzi, which placed their main focus on safeguarding the environment (just think of soil cleaning and disinfection through heat for fresh-cut crops). 

The Canadian experience

Feedback from the trip to Canada was very positive. Experts were sent over for a technical confrontation with local operators as regards flame weeding and its multiple functions.

The first machine purchased by"Cultures de Chez-Nous", owned by the Jutras family in Drumoville, Québec. This was taken during a practical demonstration with a few producers and functionaries from the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture. Click here to enlarge.

Flame weeding is getting increasingly popular in France, Belgium, Spain, Mexico etc. as well as in other green and white asparagus producer countries. New projects in Peru and Canada (Ontario) will be undertaken over the next months.

What about the future?
"Considering the positive results of the past campaigns, we will focus even more on mechanical transplants. We will create the conditions for good investment planning, as a correct management is essential for successful asparagus cultivation."

"A few new producers have already adhered to the project for 2017/18 and are gathering information on how to mechanically transplant the nursery material. We will put at their disposal all the technical knowledge we have to make their investment truly worthwhile."

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