Norfolk farmer’s asparagus success

Top Norfolk asparagus grower Andy Allen has managed to keep picking and supplying local consumers, while the majority of home-grown production has been at a standstill.

Mr Allen, of Portwood Farm, Great Ellingham, near Attleborough, has been able to pick 32 acres grown under polythene, despite the problems thrown up by the bad weather.

'We're supplying the London wholesale market and also our shop at Great Ellingham and several other roadside outlets,' he said.

'The outdoor crop has been virtually at a standstill but we've been able to load for the wholesale market in London and also for our local outlets,' he said.

'We had a good early start in March and it looked like being a nice early season. Then at the beginning of April and the declaration of the hosepipe ban it started raining and hasn't stopped since.

'We had frosts and it has been cold,' said Mr Allen, who is chairman of the British Asparagus Growers' Association, has a total of about 170 acres of the crop.

'We've had a late start three years ago but it will come eventually,' he added.

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The organisers of the annual British Asparagus Festival in the Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire, have had to cancel – because of a lack of asparagus and became the venue was flooded after the River Avon burst its banks.

The British Asparagus Growers' Association said that after the small, early crop prompted by the warm temperatures in March, the cold, rainy weather had slowed production almost to a standstill. And with more cool weather forecast it could be another 10 days to two weeks before full quantities of asparagus reach the shops.

Growers say this year's harvest is likely to be short but intense as plants whose growth has been held back make the most of warm weather when it comes.

But they suggested continued unsettled weather through May could spread the crop more evenly and lead to asparagus being available more widely for the Diamond Jubilee weekend than would be expected for the time of year.

The word asparagus originates from the Greek meaning 'sprout' or 'shoot' and it is a member of the lily family.

It starts life as a black seed and thecrowns are transplanted to fields where they are placed in deep trenches and covered with 10 to 12 inches of soil. It takes two years before the plant is ready to be harvested for the first time.

michael.pollitt@archant.co.uk

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