(March 14) Arctic winds whipping down from the north combined with a large supply of asparagus from Mexico to set back California production as grower outlook was mixed for Easter, on April 8.

“Last week there was some panic because of too much asparagus and not enough customers,” said Steve Couture, partner in Couture Farms, Huron, Calif.

Couture said historical Easter prices are $36-38 a crate but that growers were experiencing buyer resistance. He said quality on March 12 was high but that his production was 50% of normal. That should increase by March 19, he said.

On March 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s on 28-pound carton/crates from Mexico at $18.75 for extra-large asparagus, $22.75-24.85 for large, $24.75-26.75 for standard and $16.75-18.75 for small. Volumes from California shipping districts were too small to report an f.o.b., according to the USDA.

“People were trying to bring buyers along at $32 to $34,” he said. “Now that everyone wants asparagus, there might not be enough. I’m sure we’ll get through it, but the most important thing is to have quality asparagus.”

Karen Lynch, senior vice president of Zuckerman Produce Inc., Stockton, Calif., said on March 12 that harvesting had just begun on 900 acres of asparagus. She said the weather was perfect and they would be harvesting daily.

“The prices in Mexico have kept the farmers in the delta out of the market,” Lynch said. “We need prices over $30. Otherwise, with the minimum wage, it just doesn’t pay us to harvest.”

She said some growers might choose to disc their crops rather than sell.

“We try to control our labor costs so we can stay in the game,” she said. “If the prices in Mexico stay low, we just take it out of production for about three weeks.”

Cherie Watte, executive director of the Stockton-based California Asparagus Commission, said she is hopeful for higher prices in the coming weeks.

“We’re always concerned about price,” she said. “A lot of that has to do with import pressures and the global economy.”

She said decreasing prices and higher labor costs cause growers to make hard choices on whether to even harvest.

“When 75% of their cost of production is labor and the majority of that takes place during harvest season and they’re not going to break even, why market a crop?” she said.

She remains hopeful, though.

“We’ve tried to make inroads by using our financial resources to identify new markets,” she said. “Whether that translates to actual export growth remains to be seen.”