(June 29) Asparagus importers said they are gearing up for good Peruvian and Mexican seasons, with expectations for good quality crops and strong demand.

Peru’s heaviest production is typically from June until August.

On June 27, Peru’s asparagus volumes were starting to increase and the quality looked good, said Jim House, vice president of asparagus procurement for Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co. He said he expected his company’s volume to be similar to last year’s, when it shipped about 1 million 11-pound boxes.

“Production is right on track,” House said.

David Nemarnik, president of Pacific Coast Fruit Co., Portland, Ore., said his company started growing its own asparagus in Peru because sourcing has been getting more difficult as the number of canneries in the country has increased.

Pacific Coast grows asparagus on 240 acres, but it is expected to increase its acreage and production in the next few years, Nemarnik said. When the crop is in full production, in a few years, Nemarnik expects the company to ship about 300,000 11-pound boxes. This year, the company will likely ship about 50,000 boxes, he said.

Pacific Coast’s fields looked good, with 6-foot tall fronds as of June 28, he said.

Ayco Farms Inc., Deerfield Beach, Fla., started its Peruvian asparagus deal about a month ago, said president Avi Nir.

He said the crops looked good as of June 27, and he said he planned to bring in a larger volume of Peruvian asparagus when the California and Michigan seasons finish in early July.

Paul Auerbach, president of importer Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Hackensack, N.J., also said Peruvian crops looked good, although sizing was small. He said Peruvian growers have been shipping the larger sizes to the European market, where there is greater demand for extra-large and jumbo asparagus.

Auerbach’s company has been sourcing Peruvian asparagus since about mid-June. He said he expects a normal year, but he declined to release volume or pricing expectations.

Nir said he plans for his company to ship about 1.2 million to 1.4 million 11-pound boxes of asparagus from Peru. Last year, Ayco Farms shipped nearly 1 million boxes, he said.

Nir declined to release price estimates for Peruvian asparagus June 27.

House said he thought prices would be about the same as last year’s.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s on Peruvian large-sized asparagus were $22 for 11-pound boxes.

From 2001 to 2005, the value of fresh asparagus imports from Peru more than doubled from $47.2 million to about $110 million, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

MEXICAN ASPARAGUS

In 2005, the U.S. imported Mexican fresh asparagus worth nearly $98 million, according to the USDA. In 2001, Mexican asparagus imports were worth about $68 million.

Mexico’s asparagus season runs from about June to April.

The Mexican asparagus deal has produced lower yields in the past few years, Auerbach said. However, House said Gourmet Trading Co.’s Mexican growers have increased volumes recently.

As of June 27, Gourmet Trading Co. was harvesting asparagus in Mexico. House said he expected the company to continue harvesting from various Mexican states, including Baja California and Sonora, until March. In April, he expected to being sourcing asparagus from Washington.

Mexican asparagus quality as of June 27 was good, House said. He expects the company to ship about 250,000 boxes this year.

Auerbach said he had not seen any of this season’s Mexican asparagus as of June 27, but he said he expected some soon because the season was just gearing up. Auerbach was scheduled to receive its last shipment of Washington asparagus about June 30, and Mexican imports were expected to take their place.

Auerbach, Ayco Farms, Gourmet Trading Co. and Chestnut Hill Farms import small volumes of Peruvian white asparagus, which is considered a high-end niche product in the U.S.