Asparagus marketers anticipate strong demand and a challenging market during the Passover and Easter period this year.

Walter Yager, chief executive officer of Alpine Fresh Inc., Miami, said he expects to see strong demand that results in supply shortages.

“Everybody knows there’ll be a shortage,” said Jeff Friedman, president and sales manager of Carb Americas Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla. “Everybody’s quoting a high price, but who really knows how much will go through on $60 prices on 28-pounders?”

Tim Hallows, Western region marketing manager for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said he expects the Easter asparagus market to be near $50.

Easter falls on April 24 this year, about three weeks later than last year. Prices for 28-pound pyramid cartons and crates of bunched green standard-sized asparagus crossing from Mexico through Calexico, Calif., and San Luis, Ariz., on March 31, 2010, were at $34-75-36.75, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. That was just four days before Easter.

Prices on March 30, 2011, still more than three weeks before Easter, were much lower, at $22.75-24.75 for 28-pound pyramid cartons and crates of bunched green standard-sized asparagus crossing from Mexico.

California typically has promotable quantities from about March into June, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission, El Centro. Growers expect promotable volumes for Easter and Mother’s Day, she said. Easter’s late date is a good thing for California growers.

“Early can be a problem when there’s overlap in supply from Mexico,” Angulo said. “This year, Mexico should be done and we can have the Easter market for California.”

As always, it depends on the weather, but Angulo said she expects California to be a primary supplier for the Easter market. Leo Rolandelli, president and general manager of Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc., San Francisco, said he expects California to have a fair supply of asparagus for Easter, and prices will likely be higher than they are when Mexico has supplies. Increased fuel costs this year also mean higher freight charges.

Hallows said he expects California supplies to be supplemented with Peruvian asparagus to fill strong Easter demand. High quality asparagus can endure shipping from Peru to the U.S. by boat, but it’s more likely that it will be shipped by air, which is more expensive.

Julia Inestroza, marketing director, said she expected Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co. to be sourcing asparagus from Washington by mid-April. Because New Jersey will not have started yet, Friedman said he expects importers to look to Peru to supply product for Easter.

“I think it (Peru) will have some product available,” Friedman said. “But I think the growers are not yet wanting to commit volumes. They are trying to see which way the market will go before they state what they have available.”

The weak U.S. dollar is a problem, Yager said. Alpine Fresh imports most of its asparagus, and the weak dollar continues to make the U.S. market less attractive as compared to countries with stronger currencies. Still, Yager said he expects there to be promotable volumes of asparagus available for Easter.

“There will be volume, but will it be enough is the question,” Yager said.

Tony Pinto, procurement manager for Los Angeles-based Harvest Sensations’ Miami office, said he expects asparagus demand to increase about two to three weeks before Easter. He said the company plans to source asparagus from Peru unless the U.S. market gets so low that it doesn’t make sense to import it.

Crystal Valley Foods, Miami, imports Peruvian asparagus year round, and it plans to have Peruvian supplies for Easter, said Rick Durkin, president and sales manager.

Todd Miedema, director of marketing for Miedema Produce Inc., Hudsonville, Mich., said Michigan-grown asparagus is popular with his customers, and he expects strong demand for limited supplies from Michigan this season.

Miedema said this season’s processing market for asparagus will likely be strong for growers, which means growers will probably look to the processing market as an option if fresh market prices are low. Shifting supplies away from the fresh market would then create a higher price floor for the fresh market.

Dan Mol, president, Mol Produce Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., said he expects Michigan supplies to be adequate and similar to last year’s volume. The company expects to market more asparagus from its Ontario growers this season.

Mol Produce expects its Indiana growers to begin harvest in early April, Mol said. Growers in Michigan and Ontario are expected to start about a month later.