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Christian Befve, Christian Befve & Co

Is the asparagus crisis coming to an end?

In the last several years, asparagus production areas have shrunk worldwide, yields have dropped, consumer prices have become excessively high and consumption has remained low. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for this spring vegetable. Internationally-renowned expert Christian Befve takes a positive view of the future of asparagus production, both nationally and worldwide.

French asparagus production is "doing alright"
Although France is still suffering from a mixed season this year, the picture is less clear-cut than for some neighboring countries. "Germany, Italy, Spain and even Greece, which have benefited from cheaper labor up until now, have seen labor costs rise drastically this year. This is in contrast to France, which has been affected by this problem for many years, and has already begun to mechanize the sector. As a result, this year's acreage in France is virtually identical to last year's, unlike in many other producing countries."

Declining yields worldwide
The general observation for 2024 is that yields are down worldwide. Climatic disturbances such as El Nino in Peru and excessive rainfall and cool temperatures in Europe are partly to blame. "We are facing a 20-30% drop in yield per hectare. Of course, the climate has its share of responsibility, but I also think that there has been a general loosening up in terms of technological watch and anticipation, which has led to a drop in production per hectare. In this complex and highly technical profession, producers need to remain alert and anticipate better."

The case of Peru
This observation is illustrated by the case of Peru, which went from 30,000 hectares of production to 18,000 in the space of a few years. "I accompanied the pioneers of asparagus cultivation in Peru, who now account for 80% of the Peruvian production. Little by little, they adopted the techniques and went up to 20 tons/ha, only to drop back to 12 tons/ha a few years later. In an ever-changing agricultural world, you always have to anticipate and adapt to change, or you will be in danger. I believe it is always possible to reverse the trend with a drastic recovery plan. This was the case for a Peruvian producer who approached me because he had seen his production volumes plummet. After just three years, he saw his yields rise from 9 to 19 tons per hectare."

"Generally speaking, I am convinced that with the right recommendations, and in the same climatic context which we are experiencing, it is possible to increase yields per hectare by 20%."

Consumer prices are too high
While a number of tools exist to support asparagus growers in production, rethinking consumer prices is necessary to get out of this crisis. "The difficulties experienced by the asparagus sector this season are partly due to sales prices in stores, which are way too high. In this inflationary context, consumers are more careful about the price of the products they buy. It is not normal for a kilo of asparagus to be more expensive than exotic fruit, or to cost the same as meat. Of course, asparagus have always been a top-of-the-range product, but there is a ceiling price that consumers, even those who can afford it, are not willing to exceed. To achieve a good balance, asparagus should be sold at an average of 6-7 euros/kilo [6.4-7.5 USD/kg] from the farm. But prices of 17 euros/kilo [18.2 USD/kg] clearly do not encourage consumption. Retailers need to be questioned about their margins. As asparagus have much higher production costs than potatoes, it seems logical to attribute a margin per kilo, rather than a percentage of the price. After all, the work involved in putting asparagus on the shelves is the same as for potatoes. Yet, the margins are tenfold."

Towards a 15-25% increase in world production by 2025
To boost consumption, we need to review selling prices. In line with the supply/demand ratio, prices should fall in the face of more sustained production. "I sincerely believe that the trend will be reversed as early as next season. The history of asparagus follows cycles of 10 to 12 years, punctuated by a crisis. And with over 250,000 hectares planted worldwide, there is too much asparagus. Since then, acreage has shrunk to 190,000 hectares, so the market is set to recover. I am therefore urging producers to plant in order to meet tomorrow's demand, because we are going to run out of asparagus. We forecast a 15-25% increase in planted areas for next year. With greater volumes, prices will rebalance, which will boost consumption. Better times are ahead, and asparagus growers should have 8 to 10 years ahead of them with good prices."

Christian Befve is convinced that better days lie ahead, as he looks to the future of asparagus production: a contagious optimism for all hopeful growers.

For more information:
Christian Befve
Christian Befve & Co
[email protected]

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