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Alpine Fresh Inc. expects volume increase led by purple asparagus

Though it is going to be a challenging year because of economic conditions, Alpine Fresh Inc. is expecting to increase its volume of Peruvian asparagus this year led by new production of purple asparagus.

“We are going to have good production of purple asparagus,” said Walter Yager, chief executive officer of the Miami-based firm. “We also planted some new acreage of green asparagus two years ago that is coming on line this year, which will also boost our production. So we do expect to increase our market share because I do not think total volume (exported to the United States) will be up this year. I don’t think we are going to see a significant decrease, but the total crop could be down 2-3 percent.”

Mr. Yager said that there are many different factors influencing the Peruvian asparagus deal, but they all revolve around economics.

“It’s very challenging this season,” he said. “Costs are higher, and the dollar is weaker. Many growers are looking at alternate crops and moving in that direction.”

He explained that, on average, an asparagus plant will last about 12 years. At that point, the crop needs to be uprooted and the land cannot be replanted with asparagus for at least three years. “When growers pull their acreage, they have a choice to make,” said Mr. Yager.

He said that while it is not difficult to find new, virgin land to again grow a crop of asparagus, the fact that the old acreage has to be pulled gives growers the opportunity to rethink their farming strategy. “There are different dynamics today [than when he planted that crop]. There are other alternatives such as grapes, avocados or citrus that might be more attractive,” he said.

Those crops offer different opportunities and have different cost structures. Mr. Yager said that the cost of producing and marketing an asparagus crop is going to be 30-40 percent higher this year than just a couple of years ago because of increases in labor costs as well as the lower exchange rate for the U.S. dollar.

But though there are these mitigating factors, Mr. Yager said that Alpine Fresh remains bullish on Peruvian asparagus and expects it to continue to be a major focus for his company. “Peru is still the best place to grow asparagus. It produces the best quality and very predictable yields,” he said. “We are continuing to expand our operations.”