Most Of Your Asparagus Comes From Abroad These Days. Here’s Why.

pile of asparagus

These are hard times for the American asparagus farmer.

A casual supermarket shopper, even one who loves asparagus, may not realize this is so. Fresh asparagus is now available in most U.S. supermarkets all year long. And sales of asparagus have steadily climbed over the past couple of decades as consumers have embraced healthier diets. But the odds have never been lower that the asparagus at your local grocery store was indeed grown domestically.

Why? In the early ’90s, two trade agreements — the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Andean Trade Preference Act — eliminated protective tariffs on asparagus imported from much of Latin America, unleashing a flood of cheap asparagus on the U.S. market. More recently, the cataclysmic drought in California, the country’s traditional center of asparagus farming, has caused the price of water to skyrocket, rendering asparagus unprofitable for all but the most efficient farms.

Numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture paint the results of these twin scourges in harsh colors. Between 2004 and 2014, the amount of land planted with asparagus in the United States dropped 61 percent, from 66,000 acres to 25,800 acres. American asparagus production plummeted by 64 percent, from 103,100 tons in 2004 to 37,150 tons in 2014.

The declines in California have been even steeper. Just 11,500 acres of California farmland were planted with asparagus in 2014 — down from a high of 40,900 acres in 2000. Most of those acres are located in the vicinity of Stockton, California, east of San Francisco at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. But another 240 acres can be found a couple hundred miles down Interstate 5, at the southern edge of the San Joaquin Valley in Bakersfield, California, on property belonging to a farmer named Michael Andrews.

rows of asparagus

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