In January, onion shipments from Idaho and Oregon dropped 15% from last year. Imports from Mexico were down 34% for the month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And shipments from Peru also were down slightly.
According to an early February report from the National Onion Association, onion supplies are near a five-year low.
So who will fill the void?
Probably not Texas — at least not completely — because the state has reduced its acreage by more than half in the past seven years.
But Texas grower-shippers are eager to see what kind of prices their products fetch after miserable seasons in 2011 and 2012.
“I’ve learned the hard way in this business that you don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” said J Allen Carnes, owner of Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, Texas. “The outlook is great, but you never know how markets are going to go.”
On Feb. 26, the USDA reported 50-pound sacks of jumbo yellow granos crossing the U.S. border from Mexico through south Texas were selling for $20. That’s up dramatically from the $7 prices onions were fetching at the same time last year.
Texas sometimes has to deal with overlapping supplies from Mexico and the Northwest. But David DeBerry, director of category management for Crescent Fruit & Vegetable, Edinburg, Texas, said.
Mexico’s crop “should be 90% done by the time we hit full stride in Texas.”
The Northwest, Carnes said, has had supply and quality issues with storage onions brought on by unseasonably warm temperatures.
Of course, one of the biggest remaining competitors on the market during Texas’ shipping season is Vidalia.
Texas’ season could start as early as late February in the Rio Grande Valley and run into early July in the Winter Garden district, sources said. Vidalia typically starts in mid-April.
“When Vidalia starts, we’re pretty much shut out on the East Coast,” said Michael Davis, co-owner of Tex-Mex Sales LLC, Weslaco, Texas. “We grow similar onions, but they have the name. They’ve done a great job of marketing.”
The Vidalia name, along with the growers’ proximity to Eastern markets, makes it tough for their Texas counterparts to compete in some markets, Davis said.
If you’re an East Coast retailer and you can take Vidalia onions, you’re going to do that,” he said. “There is freight savings in that, too.”
Jim Gower, salesman for J&D Produce Inc., Edinburg, said many Midwest retailers also promote Vidalia onions and not Texas product.
Meanwhile, shipping to western markets can prove difficult because of local or regional product from that area.
The local deal, however, remains strong.
“Texas retailers stay with Texas,” he said.