Exports fail to catch on

03/03/2014 11:49:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Exports remain a small part of overall business for Texas onion grower-shippers.

Michael Davis, co-owner of Tex-Mex Sales LLC, Weslaco, Texas, said his company has exported maybe 40-50 loads of Texas sweet onions to Europe over the past two years.

“We do it, but not in any volume,” Davis said. “It’s not something I’m real comfortable with.”

Keeping up with the rules and regulations of doing business in the U.S. is challenging enough, Davis said. He doesn’t relish the idea of jumping through hoops in too many other countries, as well, though he does say exports have been trending upward in recent years.

“Over there it’s a little different animal.”

It’s not just the prospect of getting tangled in new and different webs of red tape that deters shippers like Tex-Mex from ramping up their export programs, Davis said.

Consider, for instance, the inherent differences between storage onions from Idaho, Oregon and Washington and sweet 1015s from Texas.

“Our onions aren’t the same as the long-day, hard, dark-skinned onions from the Northwest,” he said. “If you’re going over there, you have to put up a very good pack if it’s going to be in a container for 21 days.”

Don Ed Holmes, president of Weslaco-based The Onion House LLC, agreed that 1015s are at a big disadvantage when it comes to exports.

“Short-day onions do not lend themselves to exports,” he said. “It’s very difficult.”

Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, Texas, exports about 5% of its 1015s to Mexico and Canada, said J Allen Carnes, the company’s owner.

That percentage has stayed fairly steady for years. Carnes said that because of the size of his company’s deal, it has never felt the need to grow sales through increased exports.

Besides, he said, the shorter distance between where onions are shipped and where they’re eaten, the better.

“When it’s two days to market versus five days, it’s preferable to be closer,” he said. “It’s a good thing for consumers to have fresher product.”

While it can be true that Texas onions aren’t as easily exported as other U.S.-grown onions, for Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms, it’s more a question of timing, said Troy Bland, operations director.

“For us, the season is too short,” he said. “Our customer base is domestic. The Northwest is more into exports.”

It also comes down to demand, Bland said. Right now, there’s not huge export demand for Texas 1015s. But that’s not to say that couldn’t change.

“It’s something we’d like to investigate further in the future,” he said.



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