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US: Asparagus supply from Mexico reduced by 50 percent
From Mexico, asparagus harvest moves north to California. Typically, the California harvest does not start until production in Mexico has reached its peak and starts to dwindle. However, with short Mexican supplies, California’s San Joaquin and Central Valley are expected to start harvesting next week. This is about three to four weeks ahead of time. Asparagus that is currently available is the green variety. Harvest of purple asparagus will not start until the second week of March and production will be limited to California.
Because of last year’s big asparagus supply, the industry decided to promote asparagus for Valentine’s Day. As a result of promotions, demand has gone up. A combination of increased demand and shortage of supply has driven prices up. Currently, the price of 28 lbs. of committed product runs about $32 - $36. Given the lack of supply, the same product is about $42 - $46 on the open market. The same time last year, prices were $22 - $26, but did get as low as $16 - $18 during the season.
About fifty percent of asparagus that enters the United States this time of the year is distributed domestically and the other half goes to Europe and Japan. This year, availability for the European market is limited as the European consumer asks for Extra Large and Jumbo sizes that are hardly available.
Consumption of asparagus has gone up in recent years and in order to keep supply and demand in balance, acreage shows an upward trend in all growing regions, except for California. Asparagus is harvested manually, making it a labor intensive crop. Usually, by the beginning of May, the industry faces shortage of labor as it loses its labor to other industries that are able to pay higher wages, said Brazeel.
The biggest challenge for the asparagus industry is to find new growing regions to provide for a 12-month supply. At the moment, Peru is the only country that has year round supply. Ideally, Brazeel would not want to rely on Peru for asparagus imports as buyer’s competition is fierce, in particular during that time of the year when Peru is the sole supplier. Prices of Peruvian asparagus are highly volatile, making it a difficult market to buy from.
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