Typical deal shaping up for Walla Walla onions

06/06/2012 03:36:00 PM
Jim Offner

After a warmer-than-normal winter, Walla Walla sweet onion growers anticipate a normal start and normal volumes for the upcoming deal out of the federally designated production area in the Walla Walla Valley in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon.

“The crop looks good,” said Bill Dean, a grower with River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., and one of 16 members of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee advisory board.

Dean grows Walla Walla sweets on 85 acres in the Touchet, Wash., area. He said acreage was slightly down from a year ago.

“There’s no disease at this point, and I haven’t heard of any big issues, so I think it should be a decent crop,” he said.

Onion growers in various regions across the U.S. have described recent markets in less-than-glowing terms, thanks to an abundance of storage crop left over from the winter.

Some say the Vidalia sweet onion crop out of Georgia, which precedes the Walla Walla deal, generally is a reliable barometer for forecasting the upcoming Walla Walla crop.

“It more depends on the Georgia deal (with Vidalia sweet onions), which comes right before ours,” Dean said.

“If they start out strong, that helps us.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported May 29 that 40-pound cartons of sweet granex onions from the Vidalia district were $16-18 for jumbos and $14 for mediums. A year earlier, the same product was $9-10 for jumbos and $8 for mediums.

On June 30, 2011, 40-pound cartons of Walla Walla sweet onions were priced at $14-16 for jumbos and $10-12 for mediums.

Walla Walla growers said the deal should get going by the third week of June, which is typical.

“We’ve had some favorable moisture and warm weather, so we’re looking at a normal start of June 20,” said Harry Hamada, manager of Walla Walla, Wash.-based Walla Walla River Packing & Storage LLC.

Hamada said his company ship about 400,000 to 500,000 40-pound units from about 400 acres.

Prices shouldn’t be a problem, he said.

“The sweet onion seems to have its own market,” he said.

The market is a guessing game, said Ben Cavalli, owner of Cavalli’s Onion Acres in Walla Walla.

“If we don’t get a good market out of them, I think you’re going to see less and less of them planted,” he said.

Bryon Magnaghi, general manager of the Walla Walla-based Walla Walla Gardeners’ Association, said the deal appeared to be setting up well.

“The winter was actually pretty decent, and we didn’t have much winter kill, and we’ve had a pretty nice spring,” said Magnaghi, whose operation includes about 120 acres of Walla Walla sweets.

He estimated his crop likely would be ready by about June 15.

“Sizing looks good right now, and the plants look healthy,” he said.

He said all eyes were on Vidalia, because the size of the storage crop there could influence the Walla Walla market, Magnaghi said.

“When they put a lot in storage, they put a lot of pressure on some of the markets,” he said.

He also said the current speculation was that Vidalia’s storage crop wouldn’t be sizable.

“I assume there’s not going to be an overabundance of sweets, at least during the major portion of the Walla Walla season,” he said.

The sweet onion market should stay firm over the summer, Magnaghi said.

The crop looked normal for Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing, said Dan Borer, general manager. He said, as did other growers, that the upcoming deal could parallel last year’s.

“The weather pattern is similar to last spring, and the quality and all the rest is about the same,” he said.

Everything is shaping nicely for Locati Farms in Walla Walla, said Mike Locati, president of the operation and 12-year chairman of the marketing committee.

“We’re not expecting a bumper crop, but we should have adequate supplies this year,” he said.



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