Texas onion growers worry about oversupply

02/24/2012 09:29:00 AM
Jim Offner

Texas onion grower-shippers say they are hoping for — but not expecting — a rebound of the market by the time they start shipping their product in late March.

The onions they ship will be worth a higher return, some growers said.

Ideal growing conditions are expected to produce plenty of high-quality onions as the season gets going in late March, they said.

However, as January gave way to February, growers said their chief concern was the volume of product already on the market.

"The crop looks fantastic, and the market looks pretty sour," said Jay Humphreys, salesman with A-W Produce Co. in Weslaco, Texas. "There’s oversupply and not enough demand to satisfy supply."

Texas onion acreage is down from 13,064 acres in 2011 to 9,430 this year, according to John McClung, manager of the South Texas Onion Committee, Mission.

The Lower Valley and Coastal Bend areas have 7,320 acres, of which 5,792 are in yellow varieties, 777 are in reds and 751 in whites. The Laredo-Winter Garden district has 2,110 acres, including 1,685 in yellows, 218 in reds, and 207 in whites.

The deal appeared to be on schedule for a normal start, growers said, but they added they likely wouldn’t complain about a slight delay.

"We’re in no big hurry because the market is depressed all over the country," said Tommy Whitlock, salesman with Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce LLC. "It’s shaping up to be a repeat of 2011."

"The onion market is very unpredictable; it can change quickly," said Mike Martin, president of Mission, Texas-based Rio Queen Citrus Inc., which has more than 1,200 acres of onions in Texas.

He said f.o.b.’s hit record levels in 2010.

"In 2011, it was the opposite, and 2012, at this point, is similar, if not a little worse than it was at this point a year ago," Martin said.

A number of growers described the onion market as "depressed."

"I don’t know whether to say it’s as bad as it can get, because the first thing it will do when you say that is go even lower," said Chris Eddy, sales and operations agent with Edinburg-based Crescent Fruit & Vegetable LLC, which Frontera Produce spun off in January. "I can say it is a pretty depressed condition, down near cost."

Big volumes likely will continue as Texas growers start their harvest, said Curtis DeBerry, Progreso’s president.

"It looks like they’re going to be hauling pretty good supply out of the storage deal well into April," he said.


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