British asparagus back in supermarkets after criticism over imports

Shoppers angered by discovering imported asparagus on supermarket shelves during the short British season for the vegetable are expected to receive a fillip after a sudden burst of sunshine helped the domestic crop.

Supermarket shoppers had complained after finding asparagus grown in mainland Europe and the Americas on sale during the “peak” British season.

The traditional asparagus season officially starts on 23 April, St George’s Day, but leading up to that date the weather was “frustratingly cold” and “slowed it up”, leaving air-mile laden imports taking their place in supermarkets, said Chris Chinn, the chair of the Asparagus Growers Association.

However, that is about to change after last week’s run of sunny days helped the domestic asparagus crop “grow like stink” to produce a bumper crop “flush”.

Chinn predicted homegrown asparagus would be “everywhere” now. “It took until the bank holiday weekend for the warmth [in the ground] to come back,” he said. “The spears are like little thermometers.”

Asparagus requires a soil temperature of at least 10C to grow. However, if the conditions are right it can grow up to 10cm in one day.

“All the buds are ready and waiting, and you get a bit of warmth on it and it really erupts,” said Chinn, who is a partner at Britain’s largest asparagus growers, Cobrey Farms based in the Wye Valley. “You can grow a spear a day in these conditions.”

It is now possible to buy British asparagus, usually grown in polytunnels on the south coast, as early as February. However, the main outdoor crop is traditionally ready towards the end of April and hits its stride in May. The season typically concludes on 21 June.

However, shoppers had noticed that the British supply seemed patchy this year. While Marks & Spencer’s asparagus has been 100% British since April, rival stores are selling a mix, including imports from big producers such as Peru and Mexico as well as Italy and Spain.

Jake Fiennes posted a picture of Co-op asparagus that hailed from Peru, stating: “This is so wrong as it’s peak UK asparagus season.”

However the Co-op explained that the cold snap had delayed the arrival of its asparagus supply, grown in Sussex, and that from Monday it would be “100% British”.

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It said: “As a longstanding supporter of British farmers and growers, championing homegrown produce on our shelves when in season is important to our member owners and us.

“We currently have British asparagus in stores, which will move to 100% British from Monday. This is slightly later than usual due to the colder weather conditions in the UK over the past months, which delayed crop growth.”

Waitrose said it had enjoyed a strong early season of British asparagus from February to early May but the core season had been delayed. “We are now in full UK season supply, which, for this week and next is looking strong. That said, it’s been incredibly challenging for our asparagus growers and they have been doing all they can to combat the colder temperatures and unseasonably heavy rainfall.”

It is shaping up to be a year to forget for farmers who battled record-breaking rain during the winter only to be hindered by wet and cold spring weather. Many farms have been left flooded, leaving swathes of crops damaged and fields unable to be planted.

As a result, asparagus is not the only crop arriving later than usual, with the British strawberry season delayed by a fortnight to the end of this month. However, strawberry growers say the hold-up meant the berries had ripened and flowered more gradually, resulting in unusually large, juicy fruits.


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