(May 24) Good growing conditions this spring have Michigan grower-shippers and commodity board officials optimistic for a strong start to the summer vegetable harvests.

Some Michigan asparagus growers, however, report having trouble getting their crop out of the ground because of labor shortages, said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, DeWitt.

About a quarter of Michigan’s asparagus is harvested in the southern half of the state, Bakker said. This year, harvests there began about May 1. The rest of the crop, in the upper region of the state along the shores of Lake Michigan, began harvesting about May 5.

Asparagus acreage in Michigan has been decreasing for each of the past three or four years, Bakker said. Five years ago, about 16,000 acres were planted. This year, it’s closer to 13,000, he said.

Bakker said adequate moisture in the fall and winter and good growing weather had produced a high-quality 2007 crop.

“The crop looks fantastic,” he said. “We had pretty good snowpack and good rains. The soil is in good shape.”

Markets were strong for Michigan asparagus, Bakker said, assuming growers can get it out of the ground. Harvest should wrap up in the third or fourth week in June, with growers packing through the end of the month, he predicted.

“Demand for both fresh and processed is very, very good,” he said. “If we can get it off, we should be in good shape.”

On May 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $36-38 for 28-pound cartons of bunched Michigan asparagus, up from $28-32 last year at the same time.

He expects demand to remain strong into June and possibly through the end of the deal. The only thing standing in the way of strong markets for Michigan asparagus could be unexpected surges from other growing areas, which was unlikely, he said.