Growers anticipate strong fall markets

08/17/2012 12:12:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

Demand looks to be good for Idaho and eastern Oregon onions this season, according to growers.

It’s still early, but growers and shippers expect a successful season because of high demand coming out of California and New Mexico.

“As we get closer to the (Idaho and eastern Oregon) onion season, the onion market is quite strong out of both California and New Mexico. Indications are that we will have a better than normal market as we begin this packing season,” Ken Stewart, sales and operations manager for L&M Companies, Inc., Raleigh, N.C., said in an e-mail.

Troy Seward, president and owner of Golden West Produce, Nyssa, Ore., agrees.

“Growers in the summer period have enjoyed a profitable market and have set the stage for Idaho and eastern Oregon to come into a strong deal,” he said. “Demand is good and seems to be stronger than last season, at least at this point.”

Stewart, who works out of Rocky Ford, Colo., says he expects a normal harvest for this year.

“We should have product available for market by the middle of August and look forward to another good season,” he said.

Kay Riley, general manager/sales for Snake River Produce, Nyssa, Ore., says he is optimistic about the new season as well.

“There looks to be a good demand for exports too, and we just hope the good market carries over into next season,” he said.

Riley credits the higher demand, especially for export, to a higher supply of onions over the past couple of seasons.

“I think there was an international glut of onions, so to speak, for the past 18 months or so,” he said. “It reflects a long period of very poor prices, and some people just cut back.”

As with any product, the ebb and flow of demand has brought the Treasure Valley into a season of higher demand and slightly lower supply.

Of course, the weather is a factor as well, but not as much of an issue for growers in the Northwest.

“Northwest weather isn’t normally a factor. It’s not a total make or break it, but it’s still some of the reason,” Riley said.

Several growers agree, saying they expect lower quantities this year.

“While we have not started our season as of this time, we are predicting a slightly smaller crop this year,” Bob Komoto, general manager of Ontario Produce Co., Ontario, Ore., said in an e-mail.

Komoto also agrees demand seems strong as the season gets ready to begin.

“The market appears to have been strong all summer and hopefully that can carry into the fall,” he said.

In addition to increased demand, better spring weather brought a more normal start to the season, which should allow growers to move more onions.

“If we get an earlier start this year compared to last year we should be able to move more onions this year, and sooner,” Komoto said in an e-mail.

Chris Woo, onion sales manager for Idaho and Oregon for Murakami/Potandon Produce Co., Ontario, Ore., says he expects a strong market as demand continues to grow for retail and foodservice.

“Onion consumption has increased more than 60% from 30 years ago, especially for foodservice,” he said. “It used to be just onion rings and French onion soup, but that’s changing.”

Sweet onions

Despite slightly lower quantities, a few growers have expanded operations this year to include different varieties.

Ontario Produce Co. plans to offer sweet onions for the first time this year.

“We have had small trial amounts for several years, but this is the first time we feel we have the right product that will provide the customer with an excellent product in good volume from September through December,” Komoto said.

Riley says Snake River Produce is also trying to work on a sweet onion program.

“We’re growing a couple of varieties of sweet onions, and we’re in our second or third year,” he said.

“There’s a lot of competition in that arena, so we’re trying to build some identity, and we hope to be successful at that,” he said.

Woo also mentioned a future sweet onion program.

“We’re working on a sweet onion program that will be able to store longer and stay milder,” he said. “It’s still a work in progress.”



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