How the Greeks grow asparagus

At the International Asparagus Meeting, held as part of the asparagus and berry show, ExpoSE in Karlsruhe, Germany, on November 23, 2022, Dimitris Gkouderis, a technical consultant from Greek agricultural supplies firm Nova Green, shared facts and figures on asparagus cultivation in Greece.
Sun 30/06/2024 by Julie Butler
The asparagus acreage has been increasing in Central Macedonia in recent years because wholesalers have provided economic incentives to establish asparagus cultivation.
D. Gkouderis

Greece’s total cultivated area in 2021 was 1,500 ha, which is just 2% of its highwater mark of 73,330 ha in 1997. “Our farms are small,” said Gkouderis, “the average farm is 1 ha.” The four main growing regions are Eastern Macedonia and Thrace (750 ha), Central Macedonia (600 ha), Western Greece (140 ha) and the Peloponnese (50 ha), with white asparagus production mainly occurring in the first three and green in the latter. Cultivation has been steadily dwindling in Eastern Macedonia and, to a greater degree, in Thrace, due to the difficulty of the cultivation, a worker shortage, the high cost of labour and of establishing cultivation and because other crops, such as kiwifruit, are better suited to these areas. In contrast, however, the asparagus acreage has been increasing in Central Macedonia in recent years because wholesalers have provided economic incentives to establish asparagus cultivation and also because it’s an area of extensive fruit production so the growers don’t have many other profitable choices. “In Aridaia, my area, the asparagus area has been increasing by 30 ha a year,” he said.

Exports go mainly to Germany, Netherlands

D. Gkouderis

White asparagus, which accounts for 95% of Greek production, is harvested from late February to late April/early May in Greece, while green asparagus (the remaining 5%) is picked from early March to early June. The average yield for white asparagus in Greece is 10 tons/ha, while for green it is 7 tons/ha. Sixty percent of the crop is marketed by wholesalers and the rest by producer groups, Gkouderis said. In March, 2023, prices being paid by wholesalers to farmers ranged from €3.50/kg in some areas to €5.50/kg in other areas, with the lower prices applying to areas that had just started harvesting and where the quality was not yet stable. In 2022, Greece exported 5,746 tons of asparagus, mainly to Germany (90%) and the Netherlands (10%). “We’re not a very big market so we don’t import asparagus,” he said.

Special features of asparagus cultivation in Greece

D. Gkouderis

Depending on the variety, it’s common to plant between 13,000 and 15,000 crowns per hectare in Greece, with a distance between rows of 2.2-2.5 metres. The sowing depth used to be 25 cm but now growers sow at 18-20 cm in order to achieve more earliness. Eighty percent of the farms are drip-irrigated and many fertigation applications are made. Black and white plastic (film) is commonly used to cover the rows, with 60-70% of growers using mini tunnels in addition to the plastic covers. For extra earliness, some growers use an additional layer of plastic above their tunnels.

Labour shortage the biggest problem

There are no mechanical harvesting methods yet, so manual labour is still needed and is “a great cost for the growers.” The salary is €35 for 8 hours of work, which includes a 1 hour break. Social security adds an extra 10% in costs but in most cases doesn’t apply “because many of the workers are working illegally.” The seasonal labour comes from neighbouring countries, mostly Albania, with only a small percentage of the workers being Greek. Gkouderis said the worsening shortage of labour is the biggest problem for Greek growers.

Asparagus Pests and Diseases

When it comes to foliar diseases, the main ones in Greece are Stemphylium botryosum, Puccinia asparagi and Botrytis cinerea, while for root systems it’s Fusarium spp. and Helicobasidium purpureum (syn. Rhizoctonia violacea). The principal pests are Zeyzera pyrina, Parahypopta caestrum, Ophiomyia simplex, Lygus spp., Thrips spp., and Mites.


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