River Queen gambles on onions

03/01/2013 11:04:00 AM
David Mitchell

Texas onion acreage is less than half of what it was just seven years ago. Growers, who in recent seasons have been hurt by a variety of factors including drought, onion thrips and oversupply, saw prices plunge in each of the past two years.

So it’s no surprise that some growers have elected to cut acreage or get out of the deal altogether.

And then there’s Mike Martin.

“We’ll have more onions in Texas than ever before,” said Martin, co-owner of River Queen LLC, Mission, Texas. “That’s not the case for south Texas as a whole. Acreage is down here. I went against the grain. I anticipated less supply and lower acreage in Texas.”

He also anticipated the potential for much better prices than Texas growers have seen in years.

On Feb. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 50-pound sacks of yellow granos crossing the U.S. border from Mexico through south Texas selling for $20, or nearly three times higher than at the same time last year.

Martin, who also is involved in the Northwest onion deal through Ontario, Ore.-based Ontario Onions, said his family business noted that supplies from that part of the country appeared to be off. And import supplies from Chile, Mexico and Peru have been lighter than usual.

Those factors, combined with another anticipated dip in south Texas acreage, convinced Martin and his partners to plant more onions than usual in Texas this season.

“It was a calculated risk,” Martin said. “Our crop will be at least 30% larger than last year. It could easily be 40% more. Last year, yields were light. We’ve had good weather this winter. It’s a beautiful crop at this point.”

Martin said River Queen, which produces red, white, yellow and sweet onions, expects to start its harvest by no later than the first week of March.

“It’s been in the 80s 10 or 12 days in a row,” Martin said of warm growing conditions. “We’ll be early. We planned it that way.”

Martin said River Queen, which ships under the E&S and Rio Sweet brands, expects to ship from Texas through May.

“It’s hard to say what’s coming for the market,” he said. “I feel it’s going to stay strong. It’s a function of demand.”

Martin and his partners sold the citrus portion of their business — Mission-based Rio Queen Citrus Inc. — late last year to Los Angeles-based Paramount Citrus.

He said decisions about onion acreage were made before that deal was in place.


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