But the spring holiday’s timing — April 5 — is a mixed blessing, they say, and California asparagus acreage may dip below last year’s.
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Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce began receiving Mexico crop just after Christmas. Hampered at first by cold weather, it’s on the rise, said Don Hessel, general manager, asparagus.
“Production has started to pick up and the Mexicali Valley and Caborca got rain just yesterday,” Hessel said Jan. 27. “We always try to be in volume a week earlier than this. Hopefully it will be there in the next 10 days.”
California growers, who are starting to bring their crop out of dormancy, are braced for competition with Mexico.
“Easter is early and Mexico will be in full force,” said Marc Marchini, co-owner of Stockton-based A.M. Farms and chairman of the California Asparagus Commission. “We’ll have California asparagus on the shelf, hopefully at a price that we can keep going. Our big advantage is that if Mexico gets too hot and their quality starts to drop, then it moves up here.”
A.M. Farms, though, is growing 100 fewer acres.
“We didn’t get enough production and the price dropped so severely at the start of last season, that even though it came back toward the end we never caught up,” Marchini said.
“I don’t know of anybody who’s aggressively planting asparagus in the Delta,” he said. “California has been hovering around 10,000 acres and I think it’s going to be less this year.”
Salinas, which has a later season, could become an exception if growers there bet prices will rise.
“Firebaugh and the Central Valley face the same problem we have,” Marchini said. “By the time they’re ready, they’re butting heads with Mexico.”
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California has been through two straight years of reduced yields; production was off 15% in 2014. Though it’s too soon to predict volume, Cherie Watte, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission, hopes for a rebound despite a repetition of warm temperatures that have contributed to the state’s drought in recent winters.
“You’re not hearing any complaints from us because we’re getting some rain,” Watte said Jan. 27. “It’s been mild but we have another six weeks. We are hopeful that volumes will be steady if not higher than last year.”