California Asparagus CommissionAmple supplies of asparagus in March had growers worried about low returns for their product, but markets had picked up by early April.Plentiful supplies out of Mexico and a rapidly ramping up deal in California, combined with weather-slowed shipments to markets in the East Coast markets, have asparagus growers and shippers concerned about sagging prices.
“It’s terrible,” said Peter Warren, marketing and sales director for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Ayco Farms Inc. “We’ve got Mexico doing 1.5 million boxes a week and galloping through the thing. That’s a lot.”
Warren said that likely would remain the case until Mexico started to slow down.
And nobody was sure when that would happen, he said.
That’s just part of this year’s market mosaic, he said.
“Nobody really knows, and we have the Peruvians sharpening their teeth and wanting to get started,” Warren said.
He said the market was “at historic lows.”
Prices seemed to back up his contention, at least comparing the 2014 to the previous year.
According to the USDA, pyramid cartons/crates of 28-pound bunched green asparagus from Mexico were priced at $24.75-28.75 f.o.b. for large size and $26.75-30.75 for standard size March 25.
A year earlier, the same product was $28.75-32.75 for large and standard sizes.
Prices in mid-March had fallen into the teens, as increased volume from California was hitting the market at the same time shipments out of Mexico were peaking.
Some California grower-shippers tried to hold back their shipments during the peak flow of the Mexican crop, said Marc Marchini, a partner in Stockton, Calif.-based A.M. Farms and the president of the California Asparagus Commission.
“Mexico is driving prices down and we’re not able to return enough to make it profitable,” he said.
But the Californians could delay their deal only so long, Marchini said.
“Mother Nature obviously wants to get going and so they’re producing,” he said.
Some growers are sending product to the frozen and canning market — a move they generally don’t make until later in the season, Marchini said.
“We’re running into a situation where there’s probably a $15-20 differential in where we can afford to pack it,” he said.
Numerous grower-shippers said the U.S. asparagus market likely will exceed last year’s numbers. According to USDA, in 2013, California shipped 2.9 million 11-pound boxes, primarily in the March-May period; Michigan, 700,000 in May-June; Washington, 955,000, April-June. The total volume of U.S. production was 4.57 million boxes.