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Slow start to asparagus harvest welcomed by growers managing demand

Australia's largest asparagus growers say spring rainfall has helped slow the harvest and manage supply.

More than 90 per cent of Australian asparagus is grown in Koo Wee Rup, 70 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, and in Mildura in north-western Victoria.

Harvest traditionally begins in August in the north-west and the beginning of September in Koo Wee Rup but southern growers say wet spring weather has tempered the beginning of harvest.

Growers running at 30 per cent of capacity

Australia's largest asparagus grower Joe Vizzarri said the slow start to the season had been welcome news for the industry.

Mr Vizzarri manages a packing house, export and marketing business and several farms in the Koo Wee Rup area.

He said he and neighbouring growers were currently running at approximately 30 per cent of capacity.

"Fortunately, the rain has helped us because our export markets really aren't ready for us until at least October," Mr Vizzarri said.

"So the rain and the slow production has actually been very good for us."

Mr Vizzarri said the spring rain had not affected quality.

"Well look, even though the weather's been pretty ugly, cold and wet etcetera, we're pretty on par with last year's production and it's about to take off in a big way," he said.

Asparagus a difficult crop to manage

James Terry is a Koo Wee Rup asparagus grower and manages export for packing and distribution business Momack Produce.

Mr Terry said the industry was grateful for a steady start to harvest because asparagus could be a very difficult and labour-intensive crop to manage.

Asparagus can grow up to one centimetre per hour, which means growers must be vigilant throughout the season.

"Once we get days of 20 degrees or above, we will be harvesting every day," Mr Terry said.

"It's one of the problems with asparagus production; you can't control its growth speed or rate and it's also highly perishable so you can't store it at all."

Mr Terry said the wet, cool spring conditions allowed better management of supply into domestic and export markets.

He said growers had been forced to deal with a "sudden influx of product" in recent years during harvest, which had created marketing difficulties.

"At this stage we're going along fairly nicely," he said.

Vic Country Hour By Bridget Fitzgerald

Photo: Asparagus harvest begins in Koo Wee Rup, Australia's largest producing asparagus region. (ABC Rural: Bridget Fitzgerald)