California asparagus shipments are looking favorable for a launch in March with healthy product predicted and growing demand for organic “grass” despite a decline in acreage.
For example, Greg Paul Produce Sales Inc. of Stockton, CA expects to be shipping its Delta Queen brand from the Central San Joaquin Valley from from mid-March to May. Shipments come from 500 to 1,000 acres.
Produce broker Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc. of San Ramon, CA reports a normal winter has set the stage for the big, healthy plants.
Cold temperatures kill pests and provide good chilling conditions, which allows asparagus ferns to mature. Timely and generous rainfall in the region this season has been very benefical.
The company’s 4 growers include one organic producer and harvest has been underway for a couple of weeks.
There are 820 acres in Fresno in the Central Valley and in San Joaquin County, which will be shipping at the same time as imports from Mexico and Peru.
Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles, distributes conventional asparagus from May to September and the organic crop from May to July.
Devine Organics of Fresno, CA ships asparagus under the Double D Farms Organics brand, and has been shifting its 72 acres in Coalinga to organic due to increasing demand. Harvest will start in April.
The company is also planning to increase acreage, but hasn’t decided whether it will be in California or on its land in Mexico. It will be able to lower costs with a new irrigation system allowing valves to be turned on and off remotely if there is a leak.
Durst Organic Growers Inc. of Esparto, CA expects a small increase in volume this season because of newer plantings, and the company typically sells about 100,000 cartons a year. Last year the operation began harvesting in early February.
California asparagus acreage fell 60 percent from 2007-17 to 8,300 acres, according to California’s Department of Food and Agriculture. Production fell 41 percent from 2016-17.
Greg Paul Produce Sales Inc. report the No. 1 problem is the cost of labor.
Under a 2016 law, larger employers must now pay overtime to hourly workers after 9.5 hours, a threshold which will fall in subsequent years and eventually include smaller companies. Historically, overtime was paid after 10 hours.
Also this year, the hourly minimum wage rose to $12 for larger businesses; $11 for smaller ones.
Finally, Mexican asparagus growers expanded production this year, growers and industry experts say, and are timing their crops to potentially compete with California growers in a price war growers say they can’t hope to win.
Last year, Greg Paul Sales was getting 57 cents to 71 cents per pound of asparagus — reflective of lower and lower prices discouraging California growers from replanting. The company believes the California asparagus industry is on the very of disappearing altogether.