(April 5) If the current weather trends continue, cold, rainy days in California could put pressure on Washington asparagus volumes.

“California has had only a fraction of production year-to-date that they had last year,” Pat McDonald, president of Pacific Marketing International Inc., Yakima, Wash., said April 4. “As of last week, they had only shipped about 30% of their normal volume.”

There was too little product on April 3 to establish an f.o.b. price in the San Joaquin Valley and North Sacramento growing regions in California, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices out of Stockton and Salinas, Calif., at mostly $40-45 for large and standard 28-pound pyramid crates.

Brian Miller, sales manager for Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co., said on April 5 that some supplies from Peru still were coming in to take advantage of the strong market.

“But it probably won’t be enough to make a difference,” he said.

Peru typically stops sending to the U.S. in the spring, when the California and Washington seasons get started, Miller said.

Whether or not there will be enough Washington asparagus to fill in is unknown, McDonald said. Fresh market asparagus acreage has decreased significantly, she said.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported a 23% decrease from 2005 in Washington. McDonald said that although Pacific hadn’t had any decreases in its acreage, she wouldn’t be surprised if the statewide decrease was closer to 30%.

Many growers decided not to switch over to the fresh market when a Dayton, Wash., processing facility owned by Marion, N.Y.-based Seneca Foods Corp. moved to Peru last year, McDonald said.

Steve Thomas, president of Snow and Sons Produce Co., Outlook, Wash., on April 3 said that wasn’t the case for his company.

Thomas said he expects a 30% increase in volumes from growers who decided to come to the fresh market.

Although Washington also is experiencing a cooler-than-normal spring, the harvest should not be affected as much as it is in California, Thomas said.

“The season may be a little bit more delayed,” he said.

He expects to start harvesting about April 10, which is an average start date for the season.

McDonald also said she expects to start cutting April 10, with full volumes expected a week later.

The cooler temperatures could help extend the season, Thomas said.

“Maybe we’ll go a little later,” he said. “We usually finish up the third week of June, but maybe this year we could go clear to the end of June.”

There’s no way to predict prices, however. Another month of rain in California could keep the market strong, McDonald said.

“There’s your $64,000 question,” McDonald said. “If I was a guessing person, if they actually have another month of rain, it will be difficult for them to come back.”