Labor shortage limiting Washington asparagus potential

The Washington asparagus season has come and gone, but suppliers are commenting on the lack of labor which contributed in cutting the season short. It happens every season, they say, as soon as the cherry season kicks off, workers head over to that crop for the more lucrative offerings as well as greater stability.

"The US asparagus season is now finished with the Washington season seeing sketchy supplies throughout," said Steve Brennan of F.C. Bloxom in Seattle. "After a slower start due to cooler weather, the season accelerated, finishing fast as hot weather settled in over the main growing areas of Wapato, Mattawa and Pasco. Another reason the season abruptly ended was due to the labor issues, as workers headed for the cherry deal as soon as it started. The immigration policies make it tough here in Washington and there are more and more H2-A guest worker program delays and less and less domestic labor available causing growers to suffer crop losses. Therefore, there is a general belief that asparagus growers will not expand acreage because they know they will not have the labor force to accommodate it."

Brennan noted that the market was high thanks to the tighter supply. "We had a high market, much higher than we are used to," he observed. "The WA deal started with 28lb boxes at $59.00 and ended at $52.00. For larger sizes, which is what the UK prefers, the season began on $57.00, ending at $49.00 to $50.00."

Mexico on now, has advantage over Peru
As the US finishes its season, suppliers are now shifting offshore to source asparagus, beginning with Mexico. Peru will also follow shortly, however, there are some doubts as to how competitive Peru can be this year.

"First will be Mexico, with Peru following in October," Brennan said. "Mexico has an advantage over Peru at the moment due to the lower cost of freight. Additionally, Peru is having some issues organizationally, and we might even see lower volume out of there this year for this reason as well as the higher freight rates."

February not too early to place orders
Brennan strongly encouraged receivers, particularly those in overseas markets like the UK, to place their orders early. He noted that short supplies meant inventories are sometimes assigned even before the season commences. 

"We do ship locally, but we are right alongside SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma airport) to expedite asparagus exports overseas," Brennan explained. "One of our biggest markets is the UK and we airfreight directly into London generally from the middle of April to the start of June, depending on weather. However, many receivers were left disappointed this year because the short supplies meant some missed out. Therefore we suggest that buyers of Washington asparagus to contact our Seattle Export Manager, Mr. Brian Bernard, and get their orders in as soon as possible. February is not too early to set up programs and place orders."

For more information:
Steve Brennan
Brian Bernard
F.C. Bloxom Company
Tel: +1 (206) 624-1000

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