Asparagus spears being harvested around Mid-Columbia

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldApril 10, 2013 

At Larsen Farms north of Pasco, more than 100 workers already are cutting asparagus spears.

Owner Gary Larsen said his 350 acres of asparagus are being cut every other day right now because of the cooler weather.

Like Larsen, almost all asparagus farmers in the Tri-City area have started harvesting the 5,000 or so acres planted within a 60-mile radius, said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission.

Some 70-degree days helped jump start the harvest for some, he said. Soil temperatures must reach at least 50 degrees for the perennial crop to start shooting up spears.

And so far, Larsen said the quality looks good. Harvest started more than a week ago for him, which is about average.

Now, he and others are waiting on the weather to warm up, which will spur the asparagus to grow faster.

Last year, a lack of workers caused some farmers, including Larsen, to stop harvesting older fields. Asparagus crowns last about 15 years before the fields must be replanted.

This year, Larsen said he has enough workers, for now. Schreiber said other farmers are telling him they have either just enough, or still need more.

Last year, about 4,700 acres of asparagus was harvested in Washington. It was worth about $18.2 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The price for fresh asparagus is depressed at the moment, because Mexico hasn't finished selling its asparagus, Schreiber said. Normally, the last of the Mexican asparagus for the year would be sold by now.

"We expect once Mexico gets out of the market that the price is going to come up," Schreiber said.

Asparagus acreage in the state has decreased during the past 12 years. Since the 1990s, the state has gone from about 27,500 acres of asparagus to about 5,000, with most of that acreage in Benton and Franklin counties.

But Schreiber said they are seeing significant plantings of asparagus. It takes three years from when the seed is planted for asparagus to be ready for a significant harvest.

More nurseries of asparagus have been planted in the past two years than have been in a decade, he said.

"I am optimistic that the asparagus industry has went down, bottomed out and is starting to come back," Schreiber said.

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