Texas onion growers optimistic about upcoming season

03/01/2013 10:28:00 AM
David Mitchell

Courtesy Crescent Fruit & VegetableCrescent Fruit & Vegetable, Edinburg, Texas, expects to begin harvesting its onions in the Rio Grande Valley by March 20 and wrap up by the Fourth of July. Onion acreage is down significantly in the Lone Star State, and a lingering drought threatens to be Texas’s worst in at least half a century.

However, Texas onion grower-shippers are optimistic 2013 will be their best season in at least three years.

“This year, supplies out of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Mexico have been much more manageable,” said Don Ed Holmes, president of The Onion House, Weslaco, Texas.

“That sets the stage for Texas. When those deals overlap and there is too much volume, it’s a bad situation. But this year, I think we’ll be OK,” Holmes said.

On Feb. 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 50-pound sacks of jumbo yellow onions crossing the U.S. border from Mexico through south Texas selling for $20.

“We’re going into the deal in better shape than we were a year ago,” Holmes said. “At this time last year, we were getting $7 on Mexican onions.”

Don’t expect a glut of Texas onions to radically change pricing trends, though.

Texas growers planted less than 8,000 acres of onions this season, down from 13,000 two years ago, according to the South Texas Onion Committee.

“Acreage is down,” Holmes said, “because people haven’t made money two years in a row.”

That could change after this year. Growers who remained in the Texas deal are optimistic — based on lighter domestic and international supplies than a year ago — that demand will remain strong as supplies shift from Mexico to Texas.

“I’m anticipating an above-average market,” said Chad Szutz, general manager of Weslaco-based A-W Produce Co., which expects to start its harvest in late March.

The beginning of harvest varies somewhat from grower to grower based on geography, varieties and planting schedules.

River Queen LLC, Mission, Texas, planted early and will start its harvest by late February or the first week in March, co-owner Mike Martin said Feb. 8.

River Queen — the product of a consolidation that followed the recent sale of Rio Queen’s citrus assets to Paramount Citrus — plans to ship red, white, yellow and sweet onions through May, Martin said.

Director of category management David DeBerry said Crescent Fruit & Vegetable LLC, Edinburg, Texas, expects to start harvesting March 20.

He anticipates volume in the Rio Grande Valley to peak around April 5, with harvest wrapping up around the Fourth of July.

A few hundred miles to the north, Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, Texas, expects to ship from May 1 through July 1, owner J Allen Carnes said.

Grower-shippers said they expect good quality despite a two-year drought that ranks as the third-driest period on record in the state.

“Right now, it looks good,” said Holmes, who added that dry conditions haven’t adversely affected quality, though they could affect sizing.

Shippers see other reasons to be optimistic.

Carnes said foodservice demand, which had been flat at best, is picking up as the economy shows signs of recovery.

“When the country hit hard economic times, people were eating at home more and eating out less. In the last couple of years, it’s come back. It was pretty strong last year.”

There’s even a bright side to the drop in acreage of more than half compared to seven years ago.

Carnes said that with fewer growers and less acreage in the deal, pressure on the labor force has decreased dramatically.



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