California, Washington see shrinking asparagus volume

04/09/2010 11:01:13 AM
Jim Offner

There’s been a bit of a shakedown in the California and Washington asparagus industries, according to marketing officials in both states.

However, they add, shrinking production isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

A leaner industry, in fact, portends profits for growers who continue to produce in California, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.

“We now believe we are in a position to be in line with supply and demand for our marketing season,” Angulo said.

California has about 12,000 acres of asparagus production, which is only about one-third of its acreage in 1999, Angulo said.

“We’ve been in a decline over the last decade, but the market correction has already occurred,” Angulo said. “Those in it now are in it for the long haul.”

Leaner production translates to fewer promotional programs, Angulo acknowledged.

That does not mean that the commission can’t assist retailers in marketing asparagus, Angulo said.

“My message to the retail community is if you need something, let us know,” she said. “We’re not making broadcast efforts, but we are there to assist retailers with specialty promotions. We always have new photos and recipes and other materials available.”

The commission’s Web site, calasparagus.com, features an array of information, including a list of shippers, marketing tips, recipes and nutritional data, Angulo said.

“We’ve pretty much gone electronic in our dissemination of marketing materials,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for a commission our size not to do that.”

Good quality from California

California’s crop for 2010, meanwhile, is shaping up well, Angulo said

“The reports from the field are that the farmers are impressed with the crop,” she said. “The quality is exquisite, with nice sizes out of the field. The rain off and on has not diminished quality. They’ve been doing well and expect to continue with promotable quantifies through early June.”

Growing conditions have been kind to the industry this year, Angulo said.

“Temperatures have been moderate. There have been no major weather events, which is good, since our cost of production is such that if we can’t get a competitive product they simply won’t grow it,” she said. “We need a competitive price.”

California’s dominant asparagus variety is the UC157, developed at the University of California-Riverside about five years ago.

“The new variety improves on that quality with a tighter tip and longer green spear,” Angulo said. “The U.C.-Riverside folks try to improve on that variety, and we fully expect to have another new variety in the next decade or so.”


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