Peruvian asparagus exports jumped
to 200 million pounds in 2008
By DAN WHEAT
The USDA has announced trade adjustment assistance for United States asparagus growers, but industry leaders are unsure what the assistance does.
"It's premature to say we've figured out how this program is going to help us. We're unsure what it really does for us," Alan Schreiber, administrator of the Washington Asparagus Commission, said July 20, the day after a conference call with industry representatives in California and Michigan.
The industry in all three states has been "decimated" for years by the Andean Trade Preferences Act of 1990, said Schreiber in Pasco, Wash.
The USDA program gives U.S. asparagus producers until Sept. 23 to apply at their local Farm Service Agency offices for trade adjustment assistance through the Foreign Agricultural Service.
Benefits include cash payments and free technical training to help producers develop and implement business adjustment plans.
Producers who develop approved initial plans will receive $4,000 toward implementing the plan or developing long-term plans. Those who develop approved long-term plans will get an additional $8,000 toward implementing the plan.
Schreiber said he's trying to figure out what's involved in the plans. He said he doesn't know what they are. He said training is to be provided by land grant universities.
The National Asparagus Council submitted a petition in April from which FAS determined that increased imports of asparagus during 2009 contributed to a greater than 15 percent decline in 2009 production compared with the average of the preceding three years.
Meanwhile, the USDA is accepting comments on proposed rules to administer $15 million in market loss payments to asparagus growers for losses from imports between the 2004 and 2007 crop years as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Washington once was the national leader in asparagus production, providing 90 million pounds of product in 1990. California and Michigan have always rounded out the U.S. crop.
By eliminating tariffs, the Andean act was intended to wean Peru, Bolivia, Columbia and Ecuador away from cocoa leaf production for cocaine and toward asparagus. U.S. aid helped Peru develop its asparagus industry.
Asparagus is a seasonal crop in the U.S., but is year-round in Peru, which is able to produce and export it to the U.S. for less than it can be produced here.
Peruvian asparagus exports to the U.S. went from 4 million pounds in 1990 to 200 million pounds in 2008, Schreiber said.
"Now we have record imports of drugs and asparagus. The U.S. asparagus industry, some 500 growers, bore the cost of a drug control policy that failed," Schreiber said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., have been very helpful, he said.
In 2009, California produced 30 million pounds of asparagus, Washington 25 million and Michigan 18 million, Schreiber said.
Washington once had 250 asparagus growers and now has 100, Schreiber said. It lost three processing plants and all canning with just one pickled and one pickled-fresh-frozen processor left, he said.
The world's largest and most automated asparagus processing plant, a Seneca plant in Dayton, Wash., closed in 2005 and was moved to Peru.