There are certain signs that summer has arrived: days are longer and warmer, outdoor activities flourish and the New Mexico onion season heats up.
That’s always good news to growers and shippers in New Mexico but, perhaps, never better news than this year, which saw some of the coldest winter temperatures the state has endured in decades.
“On Feb. 1, it dropped down to 10 to 12 degrees below zero; it’s never gotten that cold in 25 years here,” said Chris Cramer, onion researcher with the department of agronomy and horticulture at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
“It’s been tough this year,” he said.
The cold snap killed off stands, particularly of younger, smaller onion plants.
“The big freeze of Feb. 1 got all the New Mexico onions down below zero for multiple hours,” said James Johnson, vice president of Carzalia Valley Produce in Columbus, N.M. “There wasn’t anybody in New Mexico that was spared from the cold.”
As a result, numerous growers reported that their earliest harvests, in addition to being delayed up to two weeks, would be shorter than usual on volume.
“I think the crop’s probably off 40% in stands,” Johnson said.
Johnson expects the market to be high, at least for awhile, he said.
“I think prices are going to have to be up just because supply is going to be down,” he said. “This June crop was planted in September, and it’s impossible to make it up whenever you lose 40% of the crop in February.”
The company likely will fall short of its usual 800,000-bag volume, Johnson noted.
The state probably won’t start hitting peak volumes until “around June 13,” he said.
Any shortage likely will reverberate through the onion industry at large, since New Mexico plays a key role in the start of the summer onion season, said Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association.
“It’s a major onion state because of its seasonality,” Mininger said. “It’s basically a link from May through the end of August in the prime marketing season. Around Memorial Day, you shift to the summer areas — San Joaquin and New Mexico are the major players that kick off the summer deal as you transition out of the imports from Mexico and the Imperial Valley and South Texas and Vidalia, Ga. It’s a quick transition.”
In 2010, New Mexico produced onions on 5,500 acres, according to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. That was a 300-acre increase over 2009 and stood in contrast to the 3,400-acre reduction across the U.S., where total acreage was 154,010.