(March 19, 10:05 a.m.) Grower-shippers expect a high-quality 2008 artichoke crop out of California, with volume shipments expected by late March or early April.

“Production is really starting to ramp up now and we’re getting a lot more volume in,” Michael Boggiatto, president and general manager of Boggiatto Produce Inc., Salinas, Calif., said March 18. “We should start peaking in the next one or two weeks.”

That peak should last about four weeks, Boggiatto said, though he admitted artichokes are a notoriously difficult commodity to nail down.

“Artichokes are really difficult to predict,” he said. “The more I think I know about them, the less I do. Being a flower, they’re very sensitive to the heat and light they get.”

Having said that, Boggiatto predicts this year’s crop would come off quickly because of cold temperatures this winter. After warm winters, artichoke harvests can take longer, he said.

Baroda Farms Inc., Lompoc, began shipping March 1 and should peak by mid-April, said Steve Jordan, president.

The deal should extend a little later than usual this year, Jordan said, with shipments expected through July.

Volumes were already starting to peak for Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms in mid-March, said Dale Huss, vice president of artichoke production. The company expects peak volumes through May 15, he said.

Volumes for Boggiatto Produce should be similar to last year, but Boggiatto predicts industry-wide volumes could be up.

Markets could go either way heading into California’s peak season, Boggiatto said.

“I would think markets would be strong, but I’m becoming a bit skeptical,” he said. “It seems that demand is down on a bunch of products. And let’s face it, artichokes are not your everyday item. If people aren’t buying lettuce, it might be a stretch to think they’re buying artichokes.”

Jordan said he expects strong markets when the company’s start to peak in April.

Huss reported strong markets as the company entered its peak period in mid-March.

“We’ve seen strong, consistent demand the last month, and we’re hopeful it will continue throughout the spring,” he said.

On March 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14.45-14.95 for cartons of thorned size 12 artichokes from California, down from $18.35-25.95 last year at about the same time.

Quality in mid-March was excellent, with late-winter rains washing salt off product and perking it up, Jordan said.

By the week of March 24, all product affected by winter frosts should be out of the pipeline, Boggiatto predicted.

Frost does not affect the quality of artichokes, Boggiatto said — in fact, some people even think it makes it taste better, he said — but it does alter the appearance of it.

Huss reported “exceptional” quality on product shipping in mid-March.