Drought conditions frustrated New Mexico onion growers in 2011, and conditions haven’t changed much since then. However, mild weather overall could mean a successful and early deal, albeit with lower prices than grower-shippers would like.

New Mexico precipitation during the first three months of 2012 ranked as the 10th driest start to any year on record.

“We’ve been doing a lot of pumping,” said Dale Gillis, owner of Hatch, N.M.-based grower-shipper Desert Springs Produce LLC.

He said growers have had to operate under a state-imposed limit of 6 inches of water per irrigated acre since the first of the year.

All told, the lack of rain hasn’t been too tough on the onion crop, according to Chris Cramer, professor of horticulture with New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.

“All of the onions are irrigated either by drip or by furrow flood irrigation, and growing conditions have been very good up to this point,” he said.

Many growers said, aside from the lack of rain, growing conditions are improved over 2011, when winter brought sustained freezes, along with drought conditions.

“It was a really mild winter, and we didn’t have to deal with the insect pressure we had been anticipating,” said Jay Hill, salesman for Hatch-based Shiloh Produce Inc.

Hill said an ill-timed freeze cut into volume a year ago, from a normal range of 1,200-1,400 bags per week to about 600-800.

“It’s going to be a lot better, as far as what we had last year after we had to deal with that horrible freeze,” he said, noting that volumes this year project to normal levels.

On May 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 50-pound sacks of yellow grano onions from the San Antonio-Winter Garden-Laredo district in Texas were priced at $12 for colossals, $10 for jumbos and $8-10 for mediums. A year earlier, they were $6-7 for jumbos and $7-8 for mediums.

This year, 25-pound sacks of reds were $20, jumbos; and $16, mediums. A year ago, the same item was $5-6 for jumbos and mediums.

An extended storage season from the Northwest is keeping markets low, and likely would continue to do so into June, according to some grower-shippers.

“Right now, (prices for) reds look good, whites are mediocre and yellows are mediocre,” said Scott Adams, president of Hatch-based Adams Produce. “The Northwest ran out of reds, so there’s a shortage on those.”

Mexico is supplying ample volumes of white onions, and storage yellows continued to flow from the Northwest, he said.