New varieties carry legacy of vintage 1015

03/05/2010 03:11:55 PM
Jim Offner

The important thing to remember about the Texas 1015 is what it isn’t, said John McClung, manager of the Mission-based South Texas Onion Committee.

That is, there aren’t really any true 1015s on the market anymore.

“The onions we have now are better than the old 1015s were,” he said. “There’s virtually no true 1015s being produced anymore.”

The Texas sweet onions now on the market are derivatives of the original 1015 variety developed by Texas A&M horticulture professor Leonard Pike in the early 1980s.

Pike is now retired, and so is the original 1015, McClung said.

The variety’s legacy continues in new varieties that improve on the original item, McClung said.

“The 1015s were a huge benefit to south Texas when they were introduced, and we continue to call a lot of onions 1015s,” McClung said.

“They’re 1015-type onions, but genetically, we surpassed it a long time ago.”

The Texas sweet onion’s versatility is a big selling point, said David DeBerry, president of David K, DeBerry Inc., Edinburg, Texas.

“The thing is, the sweet onions they’ve developed yield so well you can use them for anything,” he said.

“Ours are round and they’ll work for foodservice perfectly well. Essentially all our acreage has been planted for varieties for low pungency. Our total yellow production is 65% grown for low pungency. That’s the case for everybody down here.”

Chris Eddy, sales and operations director at Edinburg-based Frontera Produce LLC, said Texas sweet onions will compete strongly with any rivals, Eddy said.

“Obviously, the primary competition is the Vidalia,” he said. “While we don’t have complete overlap, we get started a little bit sooner. The Vidalia is probably among the better recognized. During fall and winter, most sweet onions come from Peru and Chile.

“Peruvians are probably getting more toward the end. Once the new-crop onions start, there’s always an interest in the new-crop sweet. And we still produce a quality sweet onion here in south Texas. The folks who traditionally have used Texas sweets still do.”

Texas producers have a couple of advantages, Eddy said.

“How do we compete? The quality and timing of the production are the two key advantages we have, and that’s what keeps it going,” he said.

However, Eddy noted, there are plenty of other types of onions coming out of Texas, and they’ll sell briskly.

“Reds are a big item with foodservice channels,” Eddy said. “That’s where that is growing the most. There seems to be increased interest with retail customers as well. Whites and yellows are steady.”

Some customers remain loyal to white onions, and Texas has plenty, said Curtis DeBerry, owner of Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce.

“Whites have been very active, especially in the last couple of weeks,” he said in mid-January.

“I think the sweet category has taken some of the glory from the whites to a degree, even though Hispanic customers still prefer the whites.”

Red sales, largely to the foodservice sector, have remained fairly consistent, he noted.

Reds and whites also sell more briskly in certain regions than in others, said Tommy Whitlock, salesman with Grasmick South LLC, Pharr, Texas.

“Reds move up in the Northeast,” he said. “Whites move real good where there’s a lot of Hispanic populations. They would rather buy whites than yellows or reds.

“That’s why all the yellows out of Mexico come into the U.S. Very few stay down there. Mexico likes whites. They buy whites over yellows and reds,” Whitlock said.

Bill Burns, owner of Burns Farms Inc., McAllen, Texas, says sales of different varieties often vary.

“Year to year, it’s always different,” Burns said. “The market has generally been very good for reds. And the whites are always iffy. You never know until we’re ready to harvest what the whites are liable to sell at. It’s just a throw of the dice.”

Why?

“Supply and demand,” he said. “They have their own markets. Certainly, some people require whites. Some foodservice outfits want white jumbos. The reds, as I understand it, are used a lot just for color in salads, etc.”



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