(June 30) Cold, wet weather in Mexico and tapering off of domestic production is putting pressure on asparagus shippers, and importers of Peruvian product are experiencing delays before the mid- to late July seasonal increase.

Mexican supplies, which generally start by mid-June, were negligible by the end of the month, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture had yet to establish an f.o.b. for asparagus crossing at south Texas.

Prices of Peruvian imports, however, had climbed from $16-17 for 11-pound cartons the fourth week of June to $20 on June 28. Two days later, shippers were seeing prices of $21-25, depending on size, said John-Campbell Barmmer, director of marketing for Bounty Fresh LLC, Miami.

On June 28, Caribbean imports were $21 for cartons of jumbo, $18-19 for extra-large and $20 for standard. On July 1, 2003, Caribbean imports were $17 for cartons of large and standard. Mexican asparagus was $16-17 for standard and $15-16 for large.

On June 29, Bernie Henderson, president of The Produce Solution Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., said Ecuadorean asparagus was at $22-23 for 11-pound cartons of standard size.

“It’s gone up dramatically, and that’s a combination of not only the cooler weather in Peru, but Mexico has had some issues in the past few days with rain,” Henderson said.

“There’s a tremendous shortage in the market right now,” said Barmmer, who pointed to three causes: the weather in Peru and Mexico, an airfreight shortage and strikes in Peru and the U.S. that are affecting transportation.

For the most part, however, Barmmer and other importers of Peruvian asparagus expect their shipments to increase in mid-July as planned, perhaps a week or two later if temperatures don’t decrease.

“Our belief is the market will remain good all summer,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of competing crops out there, and asparagus is a good item for retailers to promote now, with consumption that’s been increasing.”

Dan Wahl, president of United Fresh International Inc., Miami, said his volumes will pick up in August.

“Right now, it’s a little cold in Peru, and the volume that’s come out of there is very little, and very little will be available in July,” Wahl said.

Ken Nabal, director of sales for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, said August is a prime month for retailers to feature Peruvian asparagus.

The company imports white and green asparagus and plans to increase volumes of those items from Peru by 40% and 20%, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.

“It seems like a lot of the local deals started earlier this year, with asparagus, or peppers in the Northeast, and when that happens, it typically ends a little earlier,” Nabal said June 30. “We usually don’t have people coming back to us (for imported asparagus) until after the Fourth of July, but this year, it seems a little earlier.”

The Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association doesn’t have a production estimate yet, but Wahl said it’s likely to be 10% to 12% higher than last year’s 10.39 million 11-pound cartons.

The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service released its annual projections in early June, placing export growth at around 3%.

A similar Foreign Agriculture Service report on Mexican asparagus production estimates Mexico will export about 9 million 11-pound cartons to the U.S. this year.