The area used for growing asparagus has risen by 1,230 hectares (nearly 60 percent) since 2000 to more than 3,300 ha in 2014. Statistics Netherlands announced today that asparagus cultivation spread most rapidly in the provinces of Brabant and Limburg. In Limburg, asparagus cultivation increased substantially by 66 percent.
Ups and downs
The cultivation of asparagus in the Netherlands has shown an erratic pattern. Asparagus cultivation boomed in the 1950s, stimulated by the agricultural policy measures taken by the Dutch government. With 5,100 ha, the cultivation area reached a record in 1963. Subsequently, the area decreased rapidly to 2,300 ha in 1980 and then increased again to 2,800 ha in 1987. In 2000, a new low point was reached when the area shrank to 2,100 ha, followed by a steady increase to 3,300 ha in 2014.
The total asparagus cultivation area has been subject to major changes, but the total asparagus harvest has risen continually. Improved cultivation methods and the introduction of more productive asparagus varieties have resulted in a threefold production increase per hectare since the 1950s.
Asparagus cultivation area by municipality, 2014
North Limburg centre of asparagus cultivation
Particularly in the nineteenth century, the commercial cultivation of asparagus increased on the sandy soils behind the dunes in the provinces of North and South Holland and around the city of Bergen op Zoom, the so-called Brabantse Wal. Only the Brabantse Wal survived as a cultivation area. The northern part of the province of Limburg rapidly turned into the most important asparagus cultivation area, with the town of Grubbenvorst as its centre. The sandy soils in that region were extremely fit for growing asparagus, labour was cheap and amply available and the Ruhr Area was a large, nearby market. In 1980, 82 percent of the asparagus cultivation area was still situated in the northern part of Limburg, versus 61 percent in 2014.
With a share of 34 percent in 2014, North Brabant is the second largest asparagus province. Asparagus cultivation on the sandy soils in North Brabant has developed rapidly in recent years. In 2014, the Westelijk Peelgebied accounted for 16 percent of the total asparagus cultivation area, Central North Brabant for 6 percent. Cultivation areas in other provinces have also increased, in particular on sandy soils.
Asparagus earlier in the season due to new cultivation methods
Traditionally, the asparagus season begins on the second Thursday of April and ends on St John, the 24th of June, but due to improved cultivation methods, Dutch asparagus can be harvested earlier. Asparagus are covered with a special type of foil with a black and a white side. With the black side on top, the heat of the sun is absorbed and with the white side on top, the sunlight can be blocked, if the temperature is getting too high.
Another innovation is soil heating. Warm water is pumped through hoses underneath the asparagus beds. For an early harvest, large plastic tunnels are installed over the asparagus beds, which are held up by constantly blowing in air. During the day, the air in de tunnels is heated by the sun. The warm air prevents the beds from cooling down too much during the night, so the soil heating system does not have to run at its maximum capacity all of the time.
Lastly, growing asparagus in heated greenhouses also contributes to a much earlier start of the asparagus season. Nowadays, the first Dutch asparagus are available on the market around mid-March.
Asparagus predominantly exported to European countries
Exports of asparagus almost entirely go to countries on the European continent. In 2013, 17.5 million kg of asparagus were exported, a 12 percent decline relative to 2012. Nearly 60 percent of the exports of asparagus (Dutch and foreign) are destined for Germany and Belgium.
Last year, 3.8 million kg of asparagus grown in the Netherlands were exported, i.e. more than one fifth of the total asparagus harvest in the Netherlands. Approximately half of Dutch asparagus exports go to Germany; France and Belgium account for one-quarter and one-tenth respectively.
Peru and Mexico major suppliers of asparagus
A small part of asparagus available on the Dutch market comes from abroad. In 2013, 13 million kg of asparagus were imported, 10 percent down from 2012. Peru is the main supplier with more than 10 million kg, i.e. 12 percent down from one year previously. More than 1 million kg came from Mexico in 2013, an increase by 23 percent relative to one year previously. Nearly 90 percent of all asparagus imported are grown in America.