Good quality, yields typify outlook for onion deal

08/19/2011 12:24:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Growers of Treasure Valley onions got off to a late start because of cool, wet weather early in the season, but by August, signs were strong for good quality and normal yields.

Ontario, Ore.-based Murakami Produce Co. typically plants onions in early March, said Grant Kitamura, president. This year, however, it was mid- to late April.

Because of that late start, the company won’t likely begin harvest until after Labor Day, Kitamura said.

If that happens, he said, it would be unprecedented, at least in his career.

“In 31 years, it’s the first time I recall not having onions to pack in August,” he said. “We normally start Aug. 15-20.”

When the crop is ready, however, it should be a good one, Kitamura said.

“It’s progressing well — good stands, good growth. The plants look really healthy and lush,” he said.

Murakami expects good yields and size profile in its 2011-12 crop, Kitamura said.

Moderate summer temperatures in the 80s and low 90s have kept the threat of thrips and other pests and diseases low.

Despite the late start, and expected late finish, to harvest, Kitamura is not worried about early freezes damaging onions before they cure.

“We’ve harvested well into October in years past,” he said.

Murakami Produce’s acreage is largely unchanged from 2010-11, Kitamura said.

Ontario-based Ontario Produce Co. Inc. could begin harvesting some onions the last week of August, but the deal won’t likely begin in earnest until after Labor Day, said Bob Komoto, sales manager.

In late July, the crop was on track for good quality, Komoto said.

“The tops look good, but they’re just smaller than usual,” he said.

Extending harvest into October, because of the late start, comes with risks, Komoto said.

“It’s always a concern,” he said.

“Last year we had an excellent fall and got lucky. We’re going to need another one this year.”

Acreage for Ontario Produce is about the same this season as it’s been the past four or five years, Komoto said.

The week of Aug. 8, Parma, Idaho-based Champion Produce Inc. was running about two weeks behind, with harvest expected to kick off after Labor Day, said John Wong, sales manager.

“It’s coming along fairly well from what we’ve seen so far, but we have another month to (go),” Wong said.

Continued hot weather could increase the risk of yellow spot virus, thrip and other problems, he said.

“We’ve had more heat this summer than last. If it stays hotter than normal, it could be an issue.”

Planting ran a full month later than usual because of the cool, wet spring, and it stayed rainy through mid-June, said Kay Riley, general manager of Nyssa, Ore.-based Snake River Produce Inc.

Ideal growing weather since mid-June, however, had the Treasure Valley on track for a high-quality crop, Riley said.

“The plants look wonderful,” Riley said in late July.

“We anticipate a very normal crop. It will just be two to three weeks late.”

Snake River expects to begin shipping early-variety onions by the week of Aug. 29 at the latest, and possibly as early as Aug. 25-26, Riley said.

Barring an unusually early end to typical fall weather, Snake River’s growers shouldn’t have any trouble getting this season’s crop harvested and cured, despite the late start, Riley said.

“We’ll need a pretty good fall to accomplish everything, but with average conditions we’ll have almost until Nov. 1, which is more than enough time,” he said.

On Aug. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10-11 for 50-pound sacks of supercolossal yellow grano onions from southern New Mexico.



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