Friday, 11 October 2013 16:19

Dairy man jumps on asparagus bandwagon

Written by 

THIRTY FIVE years ago Geoff Lewis left his parent’s small dairy farm to seek his fortune in the sheep and cattle industry.


Today Lewis has added a dairy farm to his business, but asparagus growing has propelled him to prominence as a highly regarded grower using technology for maximum profit.

“When Liz and I got married, I went and managed a coastal sheep and beef farm and forestry block north of Foxton. My employer there was keen to diversify. In the late 1970’s the catchcry was ‘diversify’ and there were goats, deer, kiwifruit – all embryonic. 

“MAF had an advisory office supporting diversification by farmers so we investigated and decided perhaps asparagus was a good option for the free-draining sands of the west coast.” 

Lewis decided it was a good way to go. “Once I learned the trade, Liz and I thought we would invest in it on our own. We purchased a small property behind Foxton and planted 10ha of asparagus. It was also a time when the canning industry was in its heyday.” 

Manawatu had a canning factory, Hawkes Bay had several. Some product was also frozen.

“Eventually our own operation became too big for me to manage with my job so in 1986 I decided to leave my job and become a fulltime asparagus grower,” Lewis told Rural News.

About then his father died, so Geoff and Liz leased the farm off his mother and converted it to asparagus.  

“Processed asparagus was seen then as the main market for the crop grown in New Zealand. Today, processing is a minor part of the industry and fresh production is to the fore. We have a fresh packing operation and about 65% of our 300 tonne crop is sold in New Zealand and 35% is exported to Japan. 

“That’s changed. It was the other way around, but the Japanese industry has shrunk somewhat and we are now focused more on the domestic market.”

Lewis has his own nursery to grow asparagus plants. He buys in the seed, some from New Jersey, USA, and some from New Zealand. 

“There is a plant breeder in Canterbury – Dr Peter Falloon – who is one of only six asparagus plant breeders in the world and he is a major supplier of seed to us. We precision drill the seed in our nursery – generally up to a million or so plants and that’s grown there for a year.” 

At 10 months of age these plants are dug, sorted and replanted in the final beds, where they will be for about 15 years. No harvest is taken for a further two years; the first harvest is in the third year but only for about 30 days.

“The second year we’ll harvest for about 60 days and the third year for about 90 days. 

“After that we run through the normal harvest time which is mid-September to Christmas – about a 100 day harvest.”

Lewis says it’s important not to over-harvest the young plants as they need time to establish. Asparagus is not a gross feeder and doesn’t require large amounts of fertilizer. The chief requirement is free draining soils.

More like this

World reopens for NZ asparagus

An asparagus breeder sees scope for the industry making a “tremendous breakthrough” via the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Art of asparagus

Horowhenua artist Jill Brandon was among many local artists who recently exhibited their works in what could be termed an ‘agricultural space’.


An 'amaizing' change

The success of some of the early Māori adopters in the kiwifruit industry is starting to catch on.

Machinery & Products

Made in NZ... Hansen Products

Made in New Zealand looks at the wealth of design and manufacturing ability we have in this country, producing productive…

New models mark seventh decade

Celebrating its 70th year – and having already released the fifth generation A Series in January – Valtra has just…

Kubota's new autumn offerings

Kubota, which is gaining traction in the agricultural sector with an ever-broadening portfolio, has announced some additions for autumn.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Bad company

The Hound is among many in the agriculture sector, including many of our top scientists, who are somewhat cynical claims…


OPINION: This old mutt wonders what it is about tall, balding, ex-Fonterra executives and their (non) ability to handle life…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter