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Asparagus: Sustainable soil management for stand longevity and yield optimization

Research

FV 450 - Asparagus: Sustainable soil management for stand longevity and yield optimization

Start Date: 
01/05/2016
Completion Date: 
31/03/2018
Project Leader: 
Rob Simmons, Cranfield University
Code: 
FV 450

Industry Representative: Neil Cairns, Barfoots 

AHDB Horticulture Cost: £100,048

SummaryThe development of a suite of Best Management Practices to prevent and/or remediate compaction in asparagus wheelings is critical to the long-term viability of asparagus production in the UK. It is envisaged that this will result in a step-change in runoff and erosion control essential in the light of the increasing frequency of extreme rainfall events. In addition, the development of reduced tillage, companion crop and sub-soiling options are expected to facilitate significant reductions in ‘asparagus decline’ resulting in increased long-term profitability of asparagus stands.

The project will draw on the expertise of a Project Advisory Group made up of growers, researchers and independent consultants to inform the project and provide guidance on the selection of sites/techniques for field experimental work. A targeted knowledge transfer programme including field trial open days linked to annual Asparagus Growers Association (AGA) grower days, AGA briefing notes, articles in trade press, journal articles and a ‘Guide to sustainable Soil Management in Asparagus’ will facilitate rapid and widespread uptake of Best Management Practices (BMPs) by AGA members as well as the wider horticultural sector.

Participating AGA members are committed to support the long-term monitoring of the field trials established under this project through the co-funding of consecutive PhD studentships.

Benefits to Industry: The project will provide information on the state of ‘asparagus’ soils and provide focused, practical and robust guidance on how to identify and alleviate compaction and water-logging in asparagus wheelings, thereby reducing the risk of asparagus decline, increasing asparagus yields and farm profitability, while minimising environmental impact (an important consideration for growers considering GAEC greening rules, the needs of assurance schemes, environmental audits and demonstrating sustainable soil management).

i. The replicated field trial will quantify the efficacy of these BMPs to alleviate wheeling compaction. Such BMPS will also be applicable to alleviating wheeling compaction in other horticultural row crops.

 ii. Project outputs will provide a useful tool for dissemination, discussion and knowledge exchange with AGA members as well as the wider horticultural community that will help stimulate interest and develop awareness and industry expertise in sustainable soil management practices.

iii. During 2005 – 2015 the area under asparagus cultivation in the UK increased from 890 – 2235 ha (>250%). In addition, during 2005 – 2015 British asparagus production during the traditional growing season (April-June) increased by >260% (2,050 t to 5,434 t). The ex-farm value of British asparagus in 2005 was circa £5.7 Million and in 2014, £27.6 Million. UK imports during the British season (April to June 2015) of 2,396t, is valued at £8.4 million. Annual asparagus imports to the UK in 2014 amounted to 14,200t, valued at £46.8 million. The potential for UK grown asparagus production to expand is significant.

iv. However, over a 10-year cropping cycle, ‘asparagus decline’ largely attributed to Fusarium and Phythophtora can result in up to 60% loss of stand amounting to up to £16M in lost revenue per annum. A 10% reduction in yield losses due to ‘asparagus decline’ would amount to a saving of >£1.6M to UK asparagus growers per year.

v. Improved ability of UK growers to meet customer (supermarket) demand during the British asparagus season.

Aims and ObjectiveThe overall aim of this project is to develop and effectively disseminate a suite of Best Management Practices to prevent and/or remediate ‘wheeling’ compaction, improve soil structural status and reduce runoff and erosion in asparagus production systems in order to reduce the risk of asparagus decline and facilitate long-term sustainable profitability and environmental protection.

The aims of this 2-year project are to

1.   Critically evaluate a suite of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to prevent and/or remediate compaction, improve soil structural status and reduce runoff and erosion in asparagus wheelings

2.   Facilitate rapid and effective dissemination of research findings to AGA members and wider horticultural community.

3.   Establish robust replicated field trials that can form the basis of the essential long-term assessment of the proposed BMPs in terms of asparagus yield, yield quality and stand longevity.