Asparagus f.o.b.s may stay high all May

05/09/2008 12:00:00 AM
Andy Nelson

(May 9, 2:00 p.m.) A late-April freeze in Washington has boosted asparagus f.o.b.s, with 28-pound crates approaching $45 in early May.

Growers say high prices could last until late May, as Memorial Day approaches and Michigan production ramps up.

On May 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $44-44.75 for 28-pound pyramid crates and cartons of bunched extra-fancy standard asparagus from Washington, up from $36-37 last year at the same time.

“It has been a bit of a challenge because of our weather,” said Angela Weeks, saleswoman for Yakima, Wash.-based Rasmussen Marketing Inc., on May 6. “The freeze two weeks ago really hurt some of our growers.”

Some of the company’s suppliers couldn’t harvest for more than a week after the record-breaking cold April 26-28, Weeks said. Shipments were about two weeks behind schedule as a result, and she said she doubts if time can be made up at the end of the deal, which should end about on time, in late June.

“Unfortunately, none of the growers think they’ll be able to catch up on the backside,” she said.

The only saving grace, she said, has been the strong markets.

“We’re very grateful prices are staying up as high as they are,” she said. “Everybody’s trying to get as much out of it as they can.”

By May 5, asparagus shipments from Washington had significantly recovered, as daytime temperatures topped 70 and lows at night didn’t dipped below 40, said Alan Schreiber, director of the Washington Asparagus Commission, Eltopia.

“Seven days ago, supplies were still a little light, but things are fine now,” he said. “I think supply is in line with demand, so the price is moderating. We’ve had perfect asparagus-cutting weather.”

Nevertheless, Schreiber said it’s uncertain how much ground Washington can make up.

“In general, we’ll get some of it back, but not all of it back,” he said. “Demand for Washington asparagus is as high as it’s ever been, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the rest of the season cooperates.”

Weeks reported excellent quality, with large volumes of larges, extra-larges and jumbos.

If it doesn’t get too hot, growers may be able to extend the deal beyond their typical stopping point, which usually comes at the end of June.

April losses were, however, significant, Schreiber said. Not only did growers lose entire cuts, they had to hire laborers to clean the fields so new asparagus could grow.

Even growers who didn’t lose product saw their deals slowed considerably, he said.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Superior Sales Inc., Hudsonville, expects to begin shipping about May 13, a typical start to the deal, said Randy VandeGuchte, president.

Highs in the 70s in early May bode well for the crop’s quality, though it was still too early to tell for sure, he said.

VandeGuchte expected a similar size crop as last year. Superior should ship through about July 1, a typical end to the deal, he said.

While prices may not stay in the $50 f.o.b. range Washington growers saw in early May, VandeGuchte said he expects strong markets when Michigan enters the deal.



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