All eyes were on Georgia’s Vidalia sweet onion crop this spring as cool, wet weather in March and April led to problems with quality, seed stems, staining and low yields.
The degree of loss due to seed stems was still unclear as of May 9, about a month after harvest began, but Delbert Bland, owner of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms, said he still expects a good crop.
“Even though we won’t pack out as many as we’d like, we still have a good-quality onion, pretty as it’s ever been,” said Bland, who said he hopes to have all his Vidalias out of the field by the end of May.
The market is different from last year, he said, when a severe downy mildew problem wasn’t discovered until after the market had opened and prices had been set.
“This year our problem with seed stems was recognized in time, and the industry adjusted the price to coincide with the supply,” he said.
Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla., is augmenting its limited supply of Vidalias with sweet onions from California, where volume is good, and a new crop from South Carolina, to meet the demand for local produce, president Barry Rogers said.
The situation in Georgia sharply contrasts with that in California’s Imperial Valley, where “the harvest is going wonderfully, with excellent quality and volume,” Nelia Alamo, director of sales and marketing for Oxnard, Calif.-based processor Gills Onions, said May 8.
On May 6, Bill Hagins, partner in Watsonville, Calif.–based Pajaro Valley Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Distributing, said Imperial Valley growers began harvesting a week early and prices looked fairly good, with a 50-pound unit of jumbo yellows trading from $8 to $10 and a 25-pound sack of reds trading around $14 to $16.
New Mexico and Texas onions
Although production is expected to be down in New Mexico, where the harvest is set to begin, growers anticipate a profitable season.
“Our market looks real good because not everybody’s still in,” said Marty Franzoy, owner of Hatch, N.M.–based Skyline Produce.
“The salesmen and brokers say it’s going to be double digits to start,” said Franzoy, who grows yellows, red and sweets, “but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Brandon Barker, vice president of Las Cruces, N.M.-based Barker Produce, which also packs and ships onions from Arizona and Texas for bulk and processors, said this year’s spring crop of yellow and red onions out of Arizona “is probably the best we’ve ever had, with good yield and sizes.”
Chris Franzoy, president of Hatch, N.M.-based Young Guns Produce, said he anticipates a good market because of problems in other growing areas.
“The pipeline is emptying out sooner with storage crops because of stronger demand over the winter,” said Franzoy, who expected to start harvesting yellow onions around May 20, transitioning to colors in early June.
“Our crop got a really good start last fall thanks to warmer than normal weather,” he said. “Our winter was fairly mild.”
Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House, a year-round onion shipper in Weslaco, Texas, expected harvesting in the Rio Grande Valley to end by May 20.
“We would’ve finished earlier but we had a nasty rain April 28 that knocked us out of the fields for a week,” he said.
It was the first measurable precipitation since Jan. 15, a boon to later-maturing onions.
Holmes started harvesting around May 5 in the Uvalde-Winter Garden growing area, where acreage is down 25% from a year ago.
“We’re anticipating a nice crop up there and good supplies available for the latter part of May and all of June,” he said, adding that it’s been a good, dry year so far with unusually good yields and prices.
“We’ve had double-digit prices on all three colors,” he said, “which is unusual given that we never got past $6 in 2011-2012.”
Crops in the Pacific Northwest are also looking great, said Bob Hale, president of Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms, which contracts growers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California for its whole, peeled and processed business.
Harvesting should begin around June 15 on yellows, Hale said, and end about Nov. 1.