Harvesting asparagus at night
The night harvest would seem to be a complex operation. Yet the producers who have tried out the experiment in different countries have all done so successfully. Today, it represents a trend that is spreading in several parts of the world.
Natural temperature lowering
The goal of the night harvest is to optimise conditions for the preservation of asparagus during and after collection. It avoids the light (colouring of the tips), heat, low humidity, and wind that often lead to the rapid dehydration of asparagus. Depending on how the work site is set up, the process starts either at the end of the day or in the middle of the night. In both cases, the aim is to have the bulk of the harvest completed by between 6 and 8 am in order to start washing and packing early, and, above all, so as to know the precise quantity and quality of the asparagus to be marketed. The night harvest takes advantage of the natural lowering of the temperature. Asparagus harvested in this way can be 3 to 8 degrees cooler than asparagus harvested during the day. This makes cooling easier and improves the preservation and quality of the product. The night harvest hinders the bud growth that appears under plastic after the day’s temperature peak. As a result, the percentage of burnt spears is lower. Asparagus harvested at night is whiter. Its development in the mound happens during the day, and the tip appears later. Once harvested, the spears are no longer exposed to light.
Knowing the volume allows better marketing
Nocturnal conditions also provide higher relative humidity, which limits dehydration that can result in pinking. Moreover, there is little or no wind interference when handling the plastic covers. As the reports show, most teams of pickers enjoy working in cooler and less demanding conditions. The night harvest also optimises the management of packaging, which is particularly important as once sorting teams start work, they have to handle large volumes. The station manager can also adapt the number of operators to the volume of the night’s harvest as the available volumes are known very early in the day. This improved knowledge of the offer makes it possible to make the most of the daily harvest.
5 benefits of the night harvest
– colder asparagus: between 3 and 8 degrees less than during the day harvest
– better quality, resulting especially from fewer burnt tips
– no pinkness due to darkness, higher relative humidity and often less wind
– knowledge of harvest volume facilitates organisation of sorting work
– better knowledge of the offer and better daily valuation
Night picking revolutionises harvest in Alsace
As soon as they get out of the van, the small group disperses into the plot. It could be 7:00 in the morning, but it’s actually 7.00 in the evening. This is the usual time when the working “day” begins. Emmanuel Dollinger, manager of Dollinger Farm, welcomes his first group of eight Spanish seasonal workers for the 2018 season. The farm has completely overturned its harvesting routine, which used to start at 6 am and end at noon, or sometimes later. “Last year it was very hot. After ten days, Juan, the team leader suggested starting work at 7 pm or 7:30 pm, telling me that at night, you don’t suffer from the heat, and that you are more efficient and quieter,” recalls Dollinger. At first, the farm manager was reluctant but was eventually persuaded to give it a try using headlamps. The test results provided such positive results that within a fortnight, the group had become familiar with the single 10-hectare plot. Today, Dollinger is completely free to manage his time and harvest according to the weather, “as long as I have the maximum amount of asparagus waiting for me in the morning in 6 kg crates. Juan knows his stuff. He is 47 years old and has twenty-eight years of experience in asparagus.” For Dollinger, the 2018 campaign represented a revolution in crop management. “I’m a winner in every way,” he said. “When I start my day at 7:00 am, all I have to do is count the crates to instantly know how much volume I have for sale.” Sales have increased and some customers have pointed out that the quality of asparagus has improved.