The blunt tips of asparagus spears shoot through the dirt, transforming from pale white underground to purple and then green.
Asparagus heads were beginning to emerge Wednesday from farmer Jim Middleton's fields near Ringold Road in Franklin County.
Middleton expected workers to cut the early spears today as Midd Farms nears commercial harvest in the next week.
"You can't coax it out of the ground," he said. "It's going to come when it comes."
Asparagus farms just north of Pasco and in Burbank are starting commercial harvest this week, while farms farther north, where it has been cooler, are a few days behind, said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission.
The temperature has to hit 52 degrees before asparagus will come out of the ground, he said.
On Wednesday, Middleton and his employees were setting up equipment to pack some of his asparagus on Schreiber's property near Middleton's fields.
Empty lugs -- plastic boxes with holes that can fit about 25 pounds of asparagus -- were stacked one in another awaiting fresh-cut spears. A packing line was forming, with saws at different places along the line, ready to cut spears to specific lengths.
Middleton said he's hoping to see more revenue from his asparagus by packing some of it himself, which he's trying for the first time this year. He sells asparagus from more than half of his 130 acres to Gourmet Trading Co. of Pasco.
The state has about 100 asparagus growers, with most farming in Benton, Franklin, Yakima, Walla Walla and Grant counties, Schreiber said.
About 70 percent of the state's asparagus is grown in Benton and Franklin counties, he said. That amounts to about 4,000 acres.
Asparagus is the state's most labor-intensive crop, Schreiber said. It's cut by hand, with the worker bending over and cutting it with a knife, and then placing it into a box strapped to his or her side.
An average worker makes at least $10 to $11 an hour harvesting asparagus, and may make more depending on speed and yield. The state's agricultural workers receive the highest pay in the western hemisphere, Schreiber said.
Laborers may cut the acres of asparagus 65 times during the 70-day harvest period, Schreiber said.
If temperatures rise above 90 degrees, workers will harvest the same fields twice in the same day, going back to the beginning as soon as they finish, he said.
Too much depends on temperature and weather for growers to be able to say if it will be a good year for asparagus. But Schreiber said they are optimistic.
There isn't a lot of domestic asparagus in the market right now and prices the last three years have been good for farmers.
About 15 of Schreiber's 115 acres are planted in asparagus, and some of it is for research rather than production.
His farm Schreiber & Sons sells locally to restaurants, at farmers markets and through Community-Supported Agriculture, where families can buy a share and receive boxes of fresh-picked produce during the season.
Schreiber said he's about a week away from harvesting his organic asparagus. That field was being tilled Wednesday to remove weeds.
Laura Middleton, marketing manager of Middleton Six Sons Farms north of Pasco, said they are fairly optimistic about harvest because the temperature seems to be good and the weather decent.
In past years, there has been more moisture and frost damage, although she said that could still happen this year.
Middleton Six Sons Farms opened its farm stand off the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway on Monday. It also sells to several processors.
Crews cut about 100 boxes of asparagus Monday, and Laura Middleton said she expects to be in full production by the weekend.
Once harvest is in full swing, toward the end of April and beginning of May, she said they may see 1,500 to 2,000 boxes harvested a day, with about 20 pounds per box.
Bryan Lynch, co-owner of LF Farms north of Pasco, said he expects harvest on their 400 acres to be rolling in the next four to five days.
A cold frost slowed them down a bit Saturday morning, but if the weather stays warm, it should be a good year, he said.
"It's hard to know what Mother Nature is going to bring us," Lynch said.