Asparagus prices headed to $60 a boxHigh asparagus prices could go even higher — even topping $60 for a 28-pound box.

After an early, sluggish start to the season, things had turned dramatically around for Washington shippers by late April, said Sharon Heer, general manager of Yakima, Wash.-based Rasmussen Marketing Inc.

“Prices are going back up and should end up in the low to mid-50s for the season,” Heer said.

On April 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $50.75 for 28-pound cartons of standard asparagus from Washington, down from $58.75-62.75 last year at the same time.

The Washington harvest was early this year, and retailers weren’t set up to promote Washington asparagus for Easter.

“It was a rough start, probably the least demand we’ve had for a long time,” Heer said.

The market “turned a corner” on about April 24, Heer said, and the forecast for the rest of the Washington season was positive for growers.

“We should end up having a good season,” she said. “Quality and size are good, and we should have good, stable volumes.”

California prices could hit $60 a box in early May, said James Paul, asparagus and avocado salesman for The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, which expects to wrap up its Obregon, Mexico, deal by mid-May.

“Consumption of asparagus is very, very good right now,” Paul said. “There may be a gradual, continual rise” in prices.

Giumarra hopes to ship California asparagus into the first or second week of June, Paul said.

The early start in Washington and a projected late start in Michigan should spell strong demand when the Wolverine State starts production, said John Bakker, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

Washington asparagus shipments often wind down when cherry growers siphon off workers for their harvest, Heer said. If asparagus markets stay hot, the deal should go into mid- to late June.

The Michigan deal was running about two weeks behind schedule in late April, Bakker said.

“I don’t see growers doing much until mid-May.”

A late start can be a mixed bag, Bakker said. The good news is growers are less susceptible to spring frosts. The bad news is asparagus doesn’t like heat, so high temperatures could bring the deal to an early end.

That said, Bakker was optimistic heading into harvest.

“We could hit on or surpass last year’s volumes,” he said, citing a good insulating snow cover this winter and abundant rain this spring.

Acreage this season should be comparable to last year’s 10,000 acres, Bakker said.