Loire Valley Asparagus has been grown for centuries in the deep sandy soils of the ancient riverbed of the kings of France. But since 1995 in Avoine, it has benefitted from an added advantage: hot water. This is provided by the tertiary network of the EDF nuclear power plant. ASPA, which specialises in the production of white asparagus, takes advantage of this hot water by using a 200-km pipeline network under the asparagus mounds. 30oC water is distributed across 20 hectares of asparagus grown under different types of shelter, and without producing any greenhouse gas emissions.
Heating pipes in the mound
“We grow 5 hectares under plastic greenhouses and 15 hectares in open field,” said Jacques Guironnet, who bought the company in 2012 and created ASPA2. The temperature in the mound can be raised to 18-22 degrees Celsius in the middle of winter. “We aim to start production in mid-January by starting heating 20 days before,” said Guironnet, who can be considered the earliest asparagus producer in France, and in Europe, too. After acquiring the farm, Jacques Guironnet modified the production technique by switching to a 3-metre-wide gap plantation, and a density of 25,000 crowns per hectare in double rows. Establishing the asparagus field required a significant investment and a great deal of work in installing the heating pipes, which do not allow mechanical planting. Faced with the lack of area, Jacques Guironnet started replanting asparagus on asparagus, which in this case required the removal of the old heating system. A lot of extra work.
Backlim was traditionally the variety planted in the area. Nowadays, it is Vitalim, chosen for the fact that it performs better in cold conditions and because the plant’s rest period is shorter. When the asparagus grows, the harvest is constant thanks to the controlled heating and the buffering effect of the shelters. “We are not required to handle the black/white and thermal plastics very much because the cool weather conditions are more stable than those of April or May,” he said.
So tender that there is nothing left on the plate
“Even in the cold weather, it is important not to overheat the mound, as the excess temperature can lead to a loss of
quality,” said Guironnet. Early production followed by an early end of harvest ensure a very long growing period that begins in mid-April. These additional two months allow great potential for accumulation of reserves for the following year. In summer, the cultivation is carried out in the same way as for a classic asparagus crop by aerating the shelters as much as possible. Most importantly of all, the crop is protected against thrips.
The regular growth of ASPA asparagus gives it a remarkable quality. Indeed, this is what led Jacques Guironnet to come up with the slogan: “So tender that there is nothing left on the plate”. ASPA customers appreciate this asparagus for its great tenderness, its very slight fibrousness, its sweetness and absence of bitterness, and its very regular taste quality. ASPA also pays great attention to the visual quality of its asparagus, which is very white and hand-peeled for extra quality. The supply period runs from mid-January to mid-April, with 50% of sales being in France to wholesalers, specialty distribution, and food service. The other half is exported, mainly to Asia, through importers who supply a high-end clientele from the gastronomic world. ASPA asparagus is available in 5 kg and 2 kg packs as well as in 500 g bunches.