On two separate farms in the eastern Free State, black farmers have been growing asparagus with the technical support of well-known South African asparagus producer Denmar Estates and the VKB Agricultural Group, as well as government financial support.
Nine black farmers in the areas of Rosendal and QwaQwa, close to the Lesotho border, have recently harvested and sold their first asparagus crop. For ease of management, they’re farming the asparagus collectively. This is their third year of asparagus production, a crop suggested to them by VKB to address the size limitations of their land and diversify from traditional grain production.
Apart from being a high-value crop, it is an employment creator because it is labour-intensive, much more than the traditional grain or livestock farming of the Free State.
“Denmar Estates, which has been farming asparagus under the Denbi brand for over 20 years, has recently partnered with the emerging farmers and the VKB Group, to provide technical knowledge on asparagus farming, as well as provide market access to our various retail markets locally and internationally,” says Grahame Osler, sales and marketing manager of Denmar Estates. “While the project is still in its infancy, it carries some good prospects for the future. Fairly substantial volume will be coming off in the next three to five years, as the new asparagus developments reach maturity.”
“The production planned to come from these new asparagus fields over the next few years will force us to develop new markets, with a focus on exporting to Europe, the UK, the Middle East and perhaps at a later stage to the Far East,” Grahame continues.
A field of asparagus in the eastern Free State (photos supplied by Denmar Estates)
Renewed focus on export varieties
He notes that a few decades ago South Africa used to be a strong exporter of white asparagus, particularly to Germany and Holland, but that due to rising labour costs and particularly strong production growth from Peru and Mexico, many South African farmers didn't reinvest in this crop. At the same time, there was a swing from white asparagus to green asparagus.
Denmar Estates has always continued exporting green and white asparagus, but is expanding its supply capacity with the new partnership from the two new production sites in Rosendal and QwaQwa. All asparagus will be marketed under the Denbi brand and processed from the Denmar Packhouse situated in Johannesburg, close to O.R. Tambo International Airport.
Both white and green asparagus (with prospects of also growing purple asparagus) will be available from next year. The planting material is sourced from the UK and US. An individual asparagus fern can be harvested for up to fifteen years. By its third year the harvest can last for a period of five months.
“At the moment we have 120ha of asparagus under irrigation, with an additional 120ha of dry land asparagus crop in production, with the option to further increase supply if required. The season has two distinct peaks: the first in October, followed by a smaller peak in December and January.”
“The South African market for asparagus is fairly well developed but opportunities to fill production gaps and shortages do still exist, as well as growing the domestic market further.
When South African asparagus is not in season (winter months), Denmar imports asparagus from Peru and Mexico several times a week to continue supplying the local South African retailers and markets, providing a 12 month supply.
Denmar Estates will be attending Berlin Fruit Logistica.
For more information:
Tel: +27 58 303 2149