St. Paul, Minn. (June 7, 2001)—Asparagus is fast becoming one of America’s most popular vegetables. But keeping up with demand has plant health scientists working overtime to combat the diseases that strike this age-old plant. Without economical and efficient ways to fight these diseases, U.S. growers are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the growing supply of imported asparagus available in the U.S.
Asparagus (Greek for "shoot") has long been considered a delicacy. It’s only recently that its health benefits have been clearly understood. It’s considered one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence. It provides more nutrients, in greater quantities, than most any of the vegetables found in your average grocery store produce section. And if that weren’t enough, it’s a dieter’s dream, having only 4 calories per spear and containing no fat or cholesterol.
Asparagus may help us stay healthy, but keeping it healthy is another matter.
There are more than six diseases that can attack the asparagus plant. “With each disease you have a unique set of circumstances and issues that need to be addressed,” states Wade H. Elmer, a plant pathologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “Certainly the breeding of more disease-resistant varieties has been extremely helpful, but no one solution, be it breeding for disease resistance or pesticide use, is going to provide the entire answer.”
Fighting these diseases is a challenge for growers, but with the added pressure to do so while still keeping costs low enough to compete with the overseas market is proving almost impossible. Despite a substantial increase in demand, U.S. acreage devoted to growing asparagus has declined by 20% since 1990 and continues to do so. “Growers are definitely under pressure,” states Elmer. He adds, “Americans want fresh asparagus and the freshest asparagus is grown here. It’s our job as plant health scientists to insure that growers can continue to make a living growing a crop that is obviously in demand.”
Changes in import laws would help but are not likely in the near future. So in the meantime, scientists like Elmer continue to focus their efforts on discovering economical, yet effective ways, to keep growers in business and Americans supplied with the fresh asparagus they have come to appreciate.
Diseases that affect asparagus is the subject of the current feature story on the APS website. For more information, read the article at www.apsnet.org/publications/apsnetfeatures/Pages/DiseasesofAsparagus.aspx. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases, with 5,000 members worldwide.