Research Team Has High Asparagus Aspirations

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Mathieu Ngouajio, horticulture researcher, is leading efforts to reduce soil disease and increase plant vigor in asparagus. (view larger image)

Michigan is a big player in the asparagus field, ranking second nationwide only to California in total planting—about 12,000 acres, valued at more than $15 million.

That may be a lot, but it’s 30 percent less than the 18,000 acres the state boasted in 1997.

After the first crop, asparagus farmers face declining yields over time because pathogens such as Fusarium and Phytophthora build up in asparagus fields.

To regain some lost asparagus yields, a team of MSU experts funded in part by Project GREEEN will explore ways to reduce soil disease and increase plant vigor by finding the best possible soil fumigants, fungicides, herbicides and planting methods.

“Because of the complexity of asparagus replant suppression, we have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to fighting the problem,” said Mathieu Ngouajio, MAES horticulture researcher. “If nothing is done in the short term, the decline in asparagus acreage will likely continue as more and more growers are forced to abandon unproductive fields.”

Others on the research team are Mary Hausbeck, MAES plant pathology scientist; Darryl Warncke, MAES crop and soil sciences researcher; Norm Myers, Oceana County Extension director; Bernard Zandstra, MAES horticulture scientists; John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board; and several farmers.

Through extensive research, the team hopes to find a fumigant that cleanses the soil of toxic diseases, a nutrient management program that strengthens asparagus plants’ vigor, an appropriate herbicide to control weeds, disease-free planting methods to reduce the spread of disease and new cultivars with improved replant performance.

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