Heavy rains in Central Mexico and cold weather in Peru added some road blocks to the imported asparagus season.

Shipments of imported asparagus have curtailed in recent weeks, but shippers hope to see more normal volumes the remainder of July.

“The climate just changed in the last 10 days, so production is off,” said Walter Yager, chief executive officer of Alpine Fresh Inc., Miami, July 14. “We think next week out of Mexico should pick up, but Peru is heavy into winter, so I don’t think it’ll pick back up until August.”

Rain, cold hurts imported asparagus

Courtesy Southern Specialties

A stalk of purple asparagus breaks ground overseas.

Yager said the company’s production is down about 50% from Mexico.

Alpine Fresh plans to continue to bring in asparagus from both countries, but will rely heavily on Mexican product the next three or four weeks, he said, until Mexico bows out of the deal until the U.S. winter. September through December should be 100% Peruvian asparagus, Yager said.

“Sometimes Mexico wraps up at the end of the first week of August, sometimes it’s the second week of July, but cold and rain are the biggest factors there,” said Tony Pinto, procurement manager for Harvest Sensations’ Miami office. “The market should stay $20-plus because Peru will be the only one in and it’s cold in Peru.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 13 reported prices at $23-24 for 5-kilogram (11-pound) cartons of bunched jumbos out of Peru and $20-21for larges. From Mexico, 11-pound cartons of bunched green were $22.75 for jumbos and $18.75-20.75 for large. Mexico shipped almost 1.8 million pounds the first week of July, while Peru shipped 1 million. Washington was wrapping up, with 40,000 pounds shipped.

James Paul, salesman for Calexico, Calif.-based Altar Produce LLC, said his company is due to continue shipping from Mexico until mid-August. The company expects its first shipment of Peruvian product to help fill the gap the week of July 19. Altar is back into Mexico by November, Greg said.

For Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties, South America should fill the gap through the end of December, and Mexico should come in January. The company imports from Peru year-round, but supplements from other regions, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.

Rain is hurting the quality of asparagus from Mexico, and packers have to spend more time and effort sorting out spears that don’t meet quality standards.

“Quality is still good, it’s just a lot of work at the packing shed,” said Leo Rolandelli, president of San Francisco-based Jacobs, Malcom and Burtt Inc. “It’s more costly to get product out.”

Monsoon season, which is causing problems now, came late in Mexico this year, Rolandelli said.

In Peru, low temperatures are stunting asparagus growth, so the size profile is about a step smaller than during the country’s warmer seasons.

“Peru is just not sizing up, so we’re having to go out West out of Mexico,” Pinto said. “That’s still not sizing up great, but it’s better than nothing out of Peru.”

The company’s domestic deal wrapped up in April.

Markets are strong, and demand is keeping them strong, shippers agreed.

“Markets are very active because they tightened up so quickly,” Yager said. “They should stay strong until the end of the month, and then level off after that. The determining factor there is how fast Mexico can get back into the pipeline.”

A little later, when Peruvian shippers see some bigger volumes, the market should back off, Paul said. Today is a demand-exceeding-supply situation, he said July 13.

“If Peruvian growers can get $16-$18 steady they’re making money,” Pinto said.

This time of year tends be a low demand time for asparagus with other summer vegetables available, but shippers say demand is trending up.

“It’s just not the most exciting produce on the shelf, but we’re certainly working our way back into cooking vegetable times of the year,” Paul said.

Right after the Fourth of July, demand drops, Eagle said. As families start to get ready for school and vacation less, the industry starts to see more pull for asparagus.

Transportation from Peru has also posed its challenges.

“Air freight was cheap four to eight weeks ago, and then it about doubled in the last three to four weeks,” Pinto said July 14. “The lack of volume pulled a lot of planes out of rotation. With less planes, they’re asking for more money.”

That’s the biggest variable with Peruvian product right now, he said. A 7-12 day boat ride isn’t ideal for asparagus, he said.