By the time Walla Walla onions growers start harvesting in mid-June, Vidalia grower-shippers usually are filling orders from storage, Texas’ harvest is finished and Peru’s exports are not yet arriving in U.S. ports.
That leaves Walla Walla, Wash., and California as the few domestic growing areas shipping fresh sweet onions.
“California is really short on onions,” said Ben Cavalli, owner of Cavalli’s Onion Acres, Walla Walla. “Supply and demand makes the world go round. There might be good prices for our crop.”
The USDA reported June 3 that 40-pound cartons of jumbo sweet onions from Vidalia, Ga., were $14.
Walla Walla faces its own challenges. Walla Walla growers plant onion seeds in September for harvest in June and July and also transplant onions that are harvested in July and August. The area suffered a hard freeze in November after seeded plants had begun to come up and before there was any snow on the ground to provide insulation, said Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, Walla Walla.
“Aside from having a rough winter, we had an early spring,” she said. “That started everything ripening, and then it got cold. Now we have hot weather coming up.”
Walla Walla, which has roughly 700 acres of sweet onions, typically produces 400,000 40-pound equivalents per season, said Harry Hamada, manager of Walla Walla River Packing and Storage LLC, Walla Walla. It’s unclear how much of the crop was lost because of the freeze. Some growers reseeded damaged fields in the spring, and others replaced their losses with transplants.
“Some guys took them up and transplanted, so they’ll be later,” Cavalli said. “They’ll be OK. Some fields look really nice, and some look really bad.”
Bill Brownfield, sales manager for Sweet Clover Produce, Walla Walla, estimated losses on seeded onions could be as much as 40%.
“Supply is going to be tight on Walla Walla onions,” he said.
Dan Borer, general manager in the Walla Walla office of Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing, said fall-seeded onions are seven to 10 days late but the weather should not affect size or quality.
“Expectations on quality are good,” he said.
Borer said Keystone’s growers, which represent the majority of Walla Walla’s acreage, expected to begin harvest the third week of June. Harvest of the seeded crop will run through July, he said, while transplanted onions will extend the crop into August. Walla Wall’s crop is shipped fresh with no storage onions, he said.
Harvest likely will begin in time for Fourth of July promotions, Hamada said. Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co., said peak production will be throughout July.