As asparagus season comes into full swing just in time for the holidays, I wanted to take a step back as the category manager for asparagus with Robinson Fresh and look at the state of it and the journey it travels to arrive on consumers’ plates.
Growing asparagus: A long process
Generally speaking, it takes three years from the initial crown planting before a grower can harvest an asparagus crop and turn a profit. Because of this slow development, any growth in acreage must be a gradual increase. Once it is harvested, it needs to be immediately removed from the field and cooled to extend its shelf life. Optimal conditions for asparagus are between 32 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 to 95% relative humidity.1
Supply to the United States
Asparagus has an incredibly dynamic supply chain. How asparagus travels to the United States is particularly important because the United States consumes more than four times as much as other countries.2 Asparagus travels to the United States in a number of ways, including air, ocean container, and over land. Almost all asparagus is grown in either Mexico or Peru. Each origin requires a unique process; product attributes and quality can vary as well.
Mexico’s supply of asparagus is a little spotty at times compared to Peru’s, but does not require mandatory fumigation like Peru’s supply. Peru is the principal source of product to Europe, Asia, and Oceania. Market demand and fluctuating interests in these geographies can have a significant impact on availability and price for the North America market.
Trends in North America supply
North America’s asparagus is principally supplied from Peru, Mexico, and domestically. We’ve noted a continuous year-over-year decline in domestic production, primarily due to labor issues.
This year, Peru’s volume to North America is also down compared to last year. A combination of lower yields and replacing acreage with other products, like blueberries, seems to be the primary reasons for the decline. Since 2011, Peru’s exports have been relatively flat.
Most of the incremental volume available to the North America market is from Mexico. Mexico’s volumes this year have been up. Every year, Mexico continues to grow more asparagus and cover new supply windows during the year. Historically, Mexico’s February through April volume has been everyone’s focus, but new areas in Baja and Central Mexico are being developed that will make Mexico’s supply more consistently available throughout the year.
As asparagus moves off the shelves this year, keep in mind all the steps involved in getting it from a farm in Mexico, Peru, or domestically to you.
1. Pennsylvania State University: http://extension.psu.edu/business/ag-alternatives/horticulture/vegetables/asparagus-production/extension_publication_file
2. Arizona Farm Bureau: http://fillyourplate.org/blog/10-amazing-things-about-asparagus/