Mexican asparagus volume down, California prepares

Asparagus shipments from Mexico are behind where they should be at this time of year, but nobody seems to know why, shippers said.

The Caborca region appears to be the focal point of concern.

"There's all kinds of speculation. One guess is as good as another," said Mike Haynes, asparagus sales manager with Giumarra Borquez LLC, Escondido, Calif.

Weather doesn't appear to be a factor for the drop - about 15% down - and the forecasts call for ideal conditions for asparagus, Haynes said.

"There's been good weather, and it's just not coming on, causing concern for those shippers out of Caborca," he said.

There was a short period of cool weather in late January, however, Haynes said.

"They had four days with lows in the mid-30s and highs only in the low 60s, and that's not conducive to really popping production," he said.

However, conditions had been excellent in February, with more of the same forecast for the next 10 days, Haynes said Feb. 10.

"If they don't hit it in the next seven days or so, they have a problem," Haynes said.

Haynes did note "a little uptick" in production Feb. 9.

"Decent" would be more than 100 40,000-pound loads crossing the border on a Monday.

Giumarra partners with grower Pablo Borquez in Obregon, for a deal that runs from October to early May and also ships out of central Mexico between June and September, Haynes said.

Leo Rolandelli, president of San Ramon, Calif.-based Jacobs Malcolm & Burtt, also noted the relatively lean volume out of Mexico.

"Nobody really has a finger on why, but the volume seems to be coming on now," he said Feb 10. "It's been increasing every day and hopefully it will continue to go up."

The drop in volume has pushed markets up, Rolandelli noted.

"There were quite a few (holiday) promotions put out, and the drop in volume pulled prices up," he said.

On Feb. 10, prices were "in the high teens to low 20s" for 11-pound cartons of asparagus, Rolandelli noted.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 11-pound cartons of large and standard asparagus from Mexico on Feb. 10, crossing at San Luis, Ariz., and Calexico, Calif., were $18.75-$20.75. Eleven-pound cartons of small asparagus from Mexico were $4 cheaper, according to the USDA. Bunched asparagus in 28-pound cartons/crates arriving through those same areas were $46.75-$48.75 on Feb. 10.

A year ago, prices were similar for the 11-pound cartons, but 28-pound cartons of bunched asparagus arriving through Calexico and San Luis was $4 higher, according to the USDA.

Peru is reaching the end of its season, Rolandelli said

"They're mostly done, and it's planned that way," he said.

California's season is scheduled to get underway by the second week in March, said Bob Ferguson, owner and president of Ferguson Farms Inc. in Stockton, Calif.

"I'm hoping asparagus doesn't fire up for at least another month, but these warm rains I'm sure are waking the bed up," he said. "I don't care to be competing with Mexico."

Recent rain in California could be a problem for the 3,000-acre crop in California, said James Paul, senior category director for Grower Direct and sales/marketing director for Greg Paul Produce Sales Inc., both in Stockton.

"There's good dormancy, good crowns. The problem is we're getting a little too much moisture and can't get in the fields," he said.

California grower-shippers, anticipating Caborca's early exit from the market this year, would like to get a timely start this year, Paul noted.

"There will be high demand for Easter," he said, noting that prices should be higher, due to "severe lack of overall production."