(UPDATED COVERAGE, April 26) Shippers of Vidalia and Texas sweet onions said sizes will continue to be on the small side this season, and Vidalia losses due to downy mildew could be as high as 20% to 30%.
For Weslaco, Texas-based The Onion House, the South Texas sweet onion deal is expected to wind down between May 5 and May 10, two to three weeks earlier than normal, said Don Ed Holmes, the company’s president.
South Texas onions will be on the small side for the balance of the deal, Holmes said April 23.
Mike Martin, president of Mission, Texas-based Rio Queen Inc., had a different take on the Texas onion deal.
Rio Queen expects to ship until May 20-25, a typical end. And though size profile is slightly smaller this season, the company will have plenty of jumbos and colossals for late-season shipments, Martin said.
Vidalia onions also will be on the small side this season, said Derek Rodgers, sales manager of Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Co.
“Colossals will be tough to come by, and jumbos will also be down,” he said. “We’ll have a real good supply of mediums. It will be a good chance to promote 3- and 5-pound bags.”
Also like Texas, Vidalias will stop shipping sooner than normal, Rodgers said.
Sweet Onion Trading typically wraps up its Vidalias at the end of May, Rodgers said. This year, it will be the second or third week of May.
Losses for Lyons, Ga.-based L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc. will likely be 15% to 20%, but industry-wide losses could be closer to 30%, said John Williams, the company’s sales and marketing manager.
Herndon said the company’s harvest will end about mid-May, with product likely shipping into early August, Williams said.
Size issues aside, the quality of the 2012 crop is outstanding, Williams said.
“The weather’s been beautiful the past few weeks,” he said. “We’re really pleased with how we came out on the other side of (the downy mildew outbreak).”
Rodgers has heard loss estimates higher than the 20% first forecast when downy mildew began showing up, but he thinks that early estimate will likely wind up being fairly accurate.
In addition to a big hailstorm in Texas in late March, more hail and rains the weekend of April 21-22 affected some onion fields, though damage was isolated, Holmes said.
But even bad weather hasn’t been able to jump-start markets this spring, Holmes said.
“It didn’t affect the price like we thought it would,” he said. “April has been one of the worst months for demand I can remember.”
Low demand in April was exacerbated by a glut of product, Holmes said, with Idaho, Oregon and Mexico running later than usual and Texas and Georgia starting earlier.
Advance pricing prevented the low supplies of jumbo and colossal Vidalias from exerting too much upward pressure on pricing through the week of April 16, Rodgers said.
“Ideally we’d like to get them up for growers,” he said. “They are starting to get some strength this week. We hope that keeps up the next two or three weeks.”
Jumbo markets will likely stay steady, medium prices could fall slightly and colossal markets could strengthen, based on whether retailers will be content to switch from colossals from jumbos when colossals get scarce, Williams said.
On April 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14-16 for 40-pound cartons of jumbo Vidalias, up from $12 last year at the same time.
Markets won’t likely get a boost until the Winter Garden area of Texas, California and Arizona begin shipping in early May, Holmes said.
“They’re going to inherit a really good market.”
Sweet Onion Trading expects to begin its Bakersfield, Calif.-area sweet onion deal in the second or third week of June. Typically, the company will store its California onions for three weeks to wait for the Vidalia pipeline to clear.
That likely won’t be the case this year, given Vidalia’s early end, Rodgers said.
“It’s a perfect example of why we have that deal. This could be the year where we don’t have to store.”