After a shaky February in which Mexico struggled with yield losses because of cold weather and a late start, the asparagus industry is bouncing back with improved growing conditions and the start of domestic deals. Volume is expected to be strong through spring into summer.
By mid-March, suppliers said they expect not only promotable volume after Easter but also excellent quality and big sizes out of California, with Washington set to begin in April, followed by Michigan and Canada in smaller amounts in May.
Importers of Mexican and Peruvian asparagus hoped for stronger markets this spring as product continues in steady volume from Peru, which dominates the market at the end of the domestic deals, June through January. Mexican supplies dwindle into April, although grower-shippers hoped to push their harvest a little longer to recoup losses.
“The cold weather (in Mexico) affected the crowns, and production is substantially lower than in past years, but there will still be enough volume to offer promotions,” said Carlos Solf, director of procurement at Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties, Inc. “We will have more volume (out of Mexico) after Easter, bolstered by supplies from Peru and California.”
“There will be volumes to promote this spring,” echoed Rick Durkin, director of business development for Crystal Valley Foods, Miami. He expects supplies in April and May from Peru, and by June through August he said they will bring good volumes from both Peru and Mexico.
Early prices higher
The unpredictable weather in Mexican growing areas caused higher prices early in the year, said Jeff Friedman, president and sales manager of CarbAmericas, Pompano Beach, Fla.
“Last year (in February) we saw $20 for a 28-pound box, and this year the market has been very good and probably will be in the high $30s after Easter.”
A turnaround in weather in March buoyed the Mexican crop, and suppliers are optimistic.
Walter Yager, chief executive officer of Doral, Fla.-based Alpine Fresh, said his company expects to pull high volume from Peru in mid-April and then start back in central Mexico by late May.
“Quality has been outstanding in Mexico, with ideal growing temps right now,” he said March 18. “Additionally, Peru’s quality also looks good — (with) better packout than last year’s.”
Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association coordinator Priscilla Lleras said she expects mid-April Peruvian imports for 2013 to be similar to April 2012’s output of about 7 million pounds.
“April marks the midpoint for pre-peak season that begins in August and September,” she said.
California, which started harvesting at the beginning of March, is predicted to produce 36 million pounds of asparagus during its 90-day season of March through May, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.
“Retailers should see the same volume out of California as they have seen in the past two to three years,” Watte Angulo said. “Volumes are consistent and acreage has stabilized.”
May holiday supplies
Grower-shippers — particularly in California — remained optimistic in the second and third weeks of March about supplies a month out, and with Easter behind them marketers could look ahead to the next big holidays for asparagus: Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.
“The beginning of April we should see Mexico dwindle down. Therefore, there will be a big demand on Northern California for the Mother’s Day pull,” said Paul Auerbach, president and chief executive officer of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J., which serves Northeastern U.S.
He said asparagus is the largest growing segment of his business.
“Our customers have come to rely on us as the primary supplier because of our availability, inventory, quality and service and as well as our distribution capabilities,” Auerbach said.
Shifting market windows
California had the domestic market window to themselves for several weeks until Washington product began to roll in after Easter. In mid-March, Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission, Eltopia, said harvest was set to begin the first of April, and he expects volume out of the state to be close to last year’s 20 million pounds.
“I know the supply was insufficient last year, and I expect a similar situation this year,” Schreiber said.
In Michigan, John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, DeWitt, said signs point to a start around the first week of May, with promotable volumes by mid-May.
Last year’s mild weather brought the crop up early, especially in Michigan’s southern growing regions, only to get hit by several freezes in April, causing production to be down 17% from last year.
“Right now, with snow on the ground, we’re feeling good about the weather to hold the crop back a little bit,” Bakker said in late March.