New York potatoes, onions running on schedule

07/15/2010 09:17:50 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

Onions and potatoes are among the two leading vegetables New York grower-shippers ship. Growers normally begin onion harvesting in early September, with the storage deal starting in December and running through May.

Potatoes begin packing in late summer and during the fall.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York is the fourth largest summer storage onion-producing state, behind California, Washington and Oregon. The state produces on average 10,600 acres.

Onions

Andrew Gurda, owner of A. Gurda Produce Co. Inc., Pine Island, N.Y., said the growing season so far has been satisfactory.

“We are expecting this to be an average year,” he said in mid-June.

Gurda said onion prices in mid-June remained high but not as high as they were earlier in the year.

Gurda quoted onions selling for $20 for 50-pound sacks in mid-June. He said prices normally come down during the summer and by the time New York growers begin their volume.

Last season, prices on average were low, and then gradually moved to higher-than-normal f.o.b.s in January and February when they averaged $20-28.

“Last year, we had issues like everyone else, but overall it was a pretty decent season,” Gurda said.

In its first report last season in late August, the USDA reported these prices from western and central New York: yellow globe-type 50-pound sacks medium 2¼-inch minimum sold for $10-10.50; 2-inch minimum, $9; master container 16 3-pound mesh sacks 2¼-inch minimum sold for $12-12.50; and 2-inch minimum sold for $10.50-11.

Gurda plans to harvest 170,000 bags from its 170 acres, similar to last season, he said.

Other growers characterize the season as favorable.

“The crop is growing beautifully now,” Richard Pazderski, director of sales for Bland Farms Inc., Glennville, Ga., said in early July. “Everything was planted in a timely manner and we are looking for a good season up there.”

Pazderski said prices last season were depressed a little more than normal and that the deal represented a tough year for Bland to get started in the New York deal.

Bland grows and packs from 800 acres, similar to last season, in Cato, N.Y., north of Syracuse, N.Y.

Domestic producers brought a lot of product to the market, particularly in the Northeast, last season, he said, and Pazderski said Bland sold much of its crop on the fresh end early on in the deal.

Because it finished most of its New York crop by late December, Bland missed some of the higher markets that came during the following two months, Pazderski said.

He said problems with Mexican production caused shortages and helped prices skyrocket to more than $40 in February.

The prices remained high into March as Texas growers experienced problems with their growing season as well, Pazderski said.

Williams Farms LLC, Marion, N.Y., which grows in the Finger Lakes region, plans to begin its harvesting Labor Day.

“Our crop is looking pretty decent,” John Williams, partner, said in early July. “I know some areas were hurt with some wind and water, but our onions look good.”

Williams said most New York growers finished shipping out of storage when the market soared to levels exceeding $20-25.

He said the western deal, which controls the onion market, ran light last year.

Potatoes

Harvesting of New York-grown potatoes normally starts around Labor Day.

Early production can start at the end of August.

One of Williams Farms’ growers planted some early varieties that are expected to start harvesting during the end of July and early August, Williams said.

Weather during the May seeding was warm and a little too dry but shouldn’t harm the potatoes, Williams said.

Williams said he now worries about disease after June’s excessive rain.

While fall prices usually remain low, they normally firm up as the weather turns cold, he said.

Williams, which grows on 250 acres, increased its acreage by 40 acres this season and Williams expects to ship 250 loads this season.

While planting begins in May, Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y., usually begins its potato harvesting in late September and early October, with packing beginning in early November.

Maureen Marshall, vice president, said prices earlier in the season were low.

New York has a niche market with its white-skinned and high-flavor muck potatoes that are grown in black organic soil, Marshall said.

Harvesting for the state’s potatoes normally finishes by mid-October with shippers shipping storage potatoes through June.



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