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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Scientists at Los Lunas Experiment with Fall Asparagus

LOS LUNAS - Tender, green asparagus is traditionally one of the first crops harvested each spring. But it could become a popular fall crop someday if research pans out at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas.

Scientists are experimenting with harvesting asparagus in September, instead of late April and early May, to help growers gain an edge in the market.

"The goal is to help farmers get into what's called a different market window, so they can sell their products when no one else is, and have a much better chance of receiving a higher price," said Charles McGarrah, field supervisor at the center.

Asparagus has the potential to become a major crop because of New Mexico's climate, said Ron Hooks, center superintendent.

"We have the very cool nights and warm days that make for good quality plants, which nourish the spears for the next year's crop."

In fact, across the state, half a dozen outposts of NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station are testing asparagus varieties. The most promising trials are at Las Cruces and Los Lunas, which has the most varieties and the only fall harvest research.

However, significant problems will have to be worked out before the crop becomes a fall staple, Hooks cautioned. Fall yields are lower, and quality can suffer because of high temperatures during an early fall harvest, he said.

After the first year of fall harvest research at Los Lunas, some plants showed damage to the crowns, which help store food.

The damage is worrisome because spring-harvested asparagus can remain commercially productive for 15 years, Hooks said.

Researchers at Los Lunas will continue their fall harvest experiments to see if the problems can be worked out. If they succeed, growers could find a new niche market.

In spring, fresh asparagus prices fall below $1 a pound, but in the fall they sometimes top $2 a pound, Hooks said. Fresh market prices are significantly higher than those for lower quality cannery-grade asparagus, he said.