Asparagus harvest slow but steady
by Sam Matthews
Mar 22, 2013 | 3086 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Asparagus harvest under way
Hector Ochoa (left) and Alicia Martinez join a line of workers sorting asparagus spears for size at A.M. Farms on Tuesday, March 19. The packing shed on Union Island, north of Tracy, will be in full production in two weeks.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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UNION ISLAND — The asparagus

harvest in fields mostly north of Tracy is gaining momentum but has not yet moved into high gear.

Rain Tuesday night, March 19, wasn’t enough to halt cutting, and while production continues to increase, the harvest probably won’t be in full swing for at least a week or two, reported Marc Marchini, who operates A.M. Farms on Union Island with his brother, Paul.

He said that with Easter coming up a week from Sunday — on March 31 — growers are moving as much “gras” as possible to wholesalers and retail outlets in the next few days to meet the usual uptick in demand in the days before Easter.

“We’ve been going for the past two weeks, but so far production hasn’t been heavy,” Marchini said while standing in the A.M. packing shed. “We’ve had a steady increase, but no spike as we have had in some years.”

Marchini noted that only one of two sorting lines in the packing shed was in operation at the time, but he said both lines should be going sometime within the next two weeks.

Although daytime temperatures have shot up, cool nights and a general lack of rain, which made the asparagus beds dry, slowed the increase in production, Marchini reported.

When the harvest is in full swing, A.M. will have 100 cutters in fields and another 50 or 60 workers in the shed.

“So far, the quality has been excellent,” he said. “Size of the spears is increasing as production is increasing.”

Much of the asparagus coming out of the A.M. shed off Howard Road is “large standard” and “small large,” sizes that are the most popular with grocery retailers and big-box stores, he noted.

Growers are getting about $40 for a 28-pound carton, a solid price, especially since asparagus from Mexico has been entering the U.S. market.

The volume from Mexico is starting to decline, however, as temperatures in Mexican growing areas climb, reported Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission.

“Right now, it appears to be an orderly transition from declining Mexican imports toward full production in California growing areas,” she said.

Those growing areas include Stockton-Delta, Salinas and the Fresno area, she explained.

In the southern part of the Stockton-Delta area, shippers include A.M. Farms, Marchini Ag, Arnaudo Brothers and Kings Crown — all on Union Island — and Mizuno Farms east of Tracy.

At A.M. Farms, asparagus headed for grocery stores are packed in 28-pound plastic cartons and cooled in Lodi for shipment to a San Francisco wholesaler, reported Paul Marchini.

“Asparagus going to Costco and also Sam’s Club is shipped 1-kilo (2.2-pound) units in reusable plastic containers to a Lodi facility, where it is packaged for sale in those stores,” he said.

All of the production from A.M. goes to domestic markets. A few other growers export to Japan, which requires special handling.

• Contact Sam Matthews at 830-4234 or shm@tracypress.com.
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