Shippers are expecting a normal deal, getting started in some fields in late February and hitting peak volumes in mid-March — just in time for Easter on April 8.

“We’re going to prepare to get started in (late February) — it’s around normal,” said Wayne Gularte, partner with Gonzalez, Calif.-based Rincon Farms.

No weather woes

Into late January, weather hadn’t posed any major hurdles for growers, as it did in 2011, Gularte said.

“Our yields were low because of the late winter weather extending into spring,” he said.

Weather problems led to a later-than-normal start to last year’s deal, but an uncustomarily late Easter, April 24, helped serve as a buffer, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.

“There were a couple of weather events that stopped the harvest, and everybody panicked,” she said. “It helped. Our volume, obviously, took a hit, but when they were able to start, the market had cleared out. Easter was well-timed. The weather cooperated, and everything was pretty good.”

Higher market in 2012

Growers are looking at a dramatically higher market as the deal approaches. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 11-pound cartons of bunched green asparagus from Peru was $42-43 in jumbo and large sizes; $42 in medium; and $41-42 in standard, as of Jan 20. A year earlier, prices were $22 in jumbo, $21 in large and $20-22 in standard.

California’s reduced acreage helps sustain prices during its three-month harvest, growers note.

“This should be a fairly normal year,” said Marc Marchini, a partner with Stockton, Calif.-based A.M. Farms and president of the California Asparagus Commission.

“I’m not expecting anything spectacular, but there’s a bit of a resurgence of activity in asparagus in the Delta here. There are some people planting, and we did just plant some, but that won’t be reflected until about three or four years from now.”

Marchini attributes the resurgence to two elements.

“One is, our prices in our window have been able to sustain themselves, and we’re able to stay in the business. Two, the weeding-out process is taking space. Those people who were not die-hard asparagus growers have gotten out of the business, and our acreage has stayed fairly stable over the last couple of years.

“Also, I think there’s a passion for asparagus in California,” he said.

Prices were strong last year but are difficult to predict this season, said Leo Rolandelli, president of Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc., San Francisco.

“It’s hard to call,” he said. ‘They’re getting decent volume for the amount of acreage that’s there,” he said.

Mission Produce expectations

Grower-shipper Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., is coming off a good 2011 season, and there’s no reason to expect anything different this time around, said Cruz Carrera, asparagus operations director.

“For us, it starts here the first or second week of March,” he said. “Last year turned out very good. Weather conditions for the deal were not too hot. It went into May. It was shorter, a bit on weather conditions. Overall quality turned out well.”