Soaring temperatures are kicking off a surge of early asparagus harvests, which could mean the biggest crop in six years for growers in the Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley.
Soaring temperatures are bringing about a surge of early asparagus harvests.
“This warm weather has really kicked the asparagus into high gear,” Washington Asparagus Commission executive director Alan Schreiber said during a cellphone interview as he toured a packing house Monday.
“I’m walking into a cold room literally filled with asparagus. There’s just a ton … in here.”
Yakima Valley growers are upbeat, though many worry about having enough workers if production levels continue. The season typically lasts until early June; so far about 10 percent of the crop has been harvested.
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Schreiber said the harvest could reach 20 million pounds, making it the biggest crop in the last six years.
Harvest started on the Columbia Basin at the end of March; Yakima Valley growers started cutting in early April.
Wapato grower Ron Granholm said the crop has also benefited from moist soil from all the rain and snow the Yakima Valley received over the winter, a notable improvement from a year ago.
“Thank the Lord for the winter we had; we needed every drop (of water) we could get,” he said. “Last year we didn’t have a big crop; everything was horrible.”
Local growers couldn’t ask for better timing. Washington asparagus entered the market just as the supply of Mexican and California asparagus dwindled. Prices now stand $56 to $58 per 28-pound box — up from $30 to $40 a box when the Mexican and California crops were being harvested. Schreiber called the current rate reasonable considering the volume of asparagus coming into the market.
Temperatures in the Yakima Valley are expected to be in the 80s through the end of the week before dropping to the 70s and high 60s. That will likely cause a slowdown in production of the fast-growing perennial’s shoots, but it should be warm enough to maintain steady levels.
“It’s perfect for asparagus,” said Manuel Imperial, co-owner of Imperial’s Gardens in Wapato.
Schreiber said earlier growers anticipated having just enough workers, but things have changed. “We’re short because there is so much asparagus coming off,” he said.
Workers are paid 30 cents a pound, up from 20 cents just a few years ago, he said, adding that it’s a standard growers use to retain workers.
“The workers are getting paid pretty well, better than they’ve ever been paid,” Schreiber said.
Norm Inaba, co-owner of Inaba Produce Farms, which has 250 acres of asparagus in Harrah, said the quality of the asparagus is good, too: He’s seen plenty of the big, thick asparagus spears he says are the most ideal for grilling, his favorite way to prepare the vegetable.
“It seems to be even sweeter in the first month,” he said.