Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission, expected a bullish start to the Golden State deal.
“We expect demand to be excellent as we know consumers really look forward to the beginning of our season,” she said. “Consumers value our crop’s superior quality and close proximity to the marketplace.”
After years of cutting acreage, California asparagus growers may have finally found a sustainable level of production, said Tom Tjerandsen, marketing consultant for the commission.
About 11,500 acres are expected to be harvested in California in 2011, down from 13,000 in 2009, 15,000 in 2008 and 20,800 in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It looks like the year-to-year declines have stabilized,” Tjerandsen said. “Supply and demand seem to now be adequately balanced. It’s been awhile in coming.”
“Statewide acreage was on the decline over the last decade but has stabilized at a level where California farmers can supply ample amounts of quality asparagus throughout our production season,” she said.
It’s not just a question of supply falling to meet demand, Tjerandsen said. Demand also has risen — thanks in large part to an uptick in foodservice sales.
Ironically, it’s a rise in imported asparagus — the cause of California and other domestic producers cutting acreage in recent years — that is providing a boost in sales of California asparagus to foodservice channels now, Tjerandsen said.
The key has been year-round production. With asparagus a reliable option most if not all of the time, it’s a more attractive option for restaurants.
“Because of imports, chefs can menu it more,” Tjerandsen said.
The orderliness of the asparagus market is another draw for buyers, and another boon for domestic asparagus markets.
“It’s a seamless supply, with very little overlap,” he said. “California shippers wait to start shipping heavily until Mexico is finished.”
James Paul, salesman for Greg Paul Produce, Stockton, Calif., and Altar Produce LLC, Calexico, Calif., wishes that his growers in the Stockton area weren’t growing more than their typical 1,000 to 1,100 acres this season.
He thinks the stronger demand represents an opportunity they’re potentially not cashing in on.
“I’m disappointed because there’s good demand for locally-grown, and asparagus has certainly grown in popularity,” Paul said.
At the same time, Paul understands that growers are wary about competing with import deals, which continue to increase acreage.