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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Asparagus Production in Kosovo Just Taking Off

Kosovo is now an exporter of asparagus inside its own country, to the EU and beyond. I was there consulting in 2013 and 2014. They are filling their first orders now thanks to a USAID project, CNFA and Tetra Tech.
Kosovo was born as a result of the four Yugoslav Wars during the 1990's. The Kosovo War was the last of the four wars fought in 1999. Kosovo is still not recognized as a country by some political entities.

Kosovo is in the process of rebuilding and agriculture is a key ingredient in that process. Farmers in Kosovo had never tasted asparagus before. In fact, very few of the ethnic Albanians and 80% moderate Muslims living there had. But the potential for production due to its climate and location to other countries whose people consumed it (Germany, Netherlands, France. Belgium, UK) appeared promising.
Farm land in Kosovo countryside
Around the same latitude as Oceana County, Michigan, the self-proclaimed capital of asparagus production in the US, the climate was promising for many crops that favored cold winters and warm summers. Asparagus trials were started, farmers interested in diversifying their crops joined in committing their land and labor and they were on their way.

Pests are not a big problem yet on asparagus there yet because it is pretty isolated from asparagus production areas in Europe. The biggest problem is weed control. Weeds will dramatically reduce production and harbor pests and diseases. The good farmers control weeds. The less committed, don't.
Planting with crowns grown outside the country, spears look good from the better farmers.
Asparagus can keep fairly long (2 to 3 weeks) after harvest if cooled immediately after harvesting, temperatures are kept low (33 to 35F) and humidity is high (95%). But it has to be cooled as soon as harvested. Every hour not cooled = loss of 1 day in harvest life.
Asparagus trials in Kosovo
Hydrocooler built in Kosovo for a small fraction of its commercial price will lower the temperature of asparagus spears to 34F using ice cold water before putting it into refrigerated coolers.
Once spears are harvested in the fields they are quickly transported to a central facility for washing, grading and sorting, hydrocooling, and packing before put inside the cooler.
Project technical advisors figuring out the grading and sorting procedures before training Kosovo farmers.
Asparagus spears have different grading requirements depending on the market so each must be established before the process starts.
Asparagus spears bagged to keep the humidity high and prevent losses from dehydration
Getting my selfie in before the Ambassador shows up for the kickoff at the Swiss Diamond Hotel in Prishtina, Kosovo.
There is the asparagus display for the event showing the asparagus graded, sorted and wrapped in rubber bands of about 350 g each. Plastic bags keep them fresh and looking good. Boxes are for shipping on palettes for export.

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