Asparagus markets should stay strong into June

05/23/2012 01:26:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Andy NelsonHolt, Mich.-based Todd Greiner Farms began shipping asparagus May 7, a few days earlier than normal, said Tyler Hodges, the company’s sales manager. As of April 1, the company thought the crop might come off weeks, not days, earlier than usual, thanks to an abnormally warm March, Hodges said. Cold weather in April, however, restored the crop to a more normal schedule. Strong asparagus markets will likely stay that way until Mexican production ramps up in June.

Historically, markets strengthen after Memorial Day, said Sharon Heer, general manager of Yakima, Wash.-based Rasmussen Marketing Inc. But so far, this season is turning history on its head.

“I don’t think it can get any higher than it is now,” Heer said. “I think it will stay at these levels.”

On May 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $54-56.75 for 28-pound bushels of large asparagus from Washington, up from $44.75-46.75 last year at the same time.

Thanks to up-and-down weather that was reaching deep into May, Washington growers won’t likely hit peak levels on volume for the duration of the deal, Heer said May 22.

When Washington ends depends largely on the state’s cherry crop, Rasmussen. If predictions come true and significant cherry volumes come off in the second half of June, asparagus harvests could wind down in mid-June as pickers switch to the more profitable cherry crop, Heer said.

“I don’t think we’ll go as late as last year,” she said.

In California, another acreage decline this season, combined with difficulty keeping pickers from switching to the Golden State’s cherry crop, has translated into a demand-exceeds scenario, said James Paul, salesman for Stockton, Calif.-based Greg Paul Produce and Calexico, Calif.-based Altar Produce LLC.

“It’s red-hot, and it should be really crazy the next 10 days to two weeks,” Paul said May 22. “We could even see some crazier peaks.”

That’s because California was expected to wind down in late May or early June, he said.

By the second week of June, however, markets should start to return to promotable levels as supplies from Central Mexico start to increase, Paul said.

While the strong markets are mostly supply driven, demand is playing a role, too, Paul said.

“Consumption continues to increase,” he said. “It’s an item retailers want to have out there, kind of like strawberries.”

Total Michigan asparagus volumes could be down about 10% because of a late April freeze, said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, DeWitt. But because of the strong demand for fresh asparagus, fresh volumes should be similar to recent industry averages.

Michigan shippers will likely wind down about June 20-25, Bakker said.

Easter and Mother’s Day won’t be the only holidays to see big pull this year, he said.

“Everybody talks about Easter, but we see Memorial Day being big for us.”



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