Texas onion acreage has dropped significantly after reaching a peak of 17,700 acres in 2006.

In 2010, just more than 10,000 acres were planted, according to Texas A&M University extension economist Jose Peña.

Peña wrote in a January edition of the Ag-Eco News, published by Texas Agrilife Extension Agency, that Texas onion yields, based on plantings, could be up more than 18% from the previous year and up nearly 12% from 2009’s yield.

“Increased production in Texas is primarily attributed to an increase in plantings after several years of gradual reduction in plantings,” Peña wrote. “After showing a significant planting decline since 17,700 acres were planted in 2006, spring onion planting in Texas for the 2011 harvest at 13,000 acres is up 30% from 10,000 acres planted last year. The spring onion crop is making excellent progress under excellent growing conditions.”

This information was compiled a few weeks before a late freeze hit production areas.

Grower-shippers anticipate a slight reduction in volumes caused by the low temperatures, but evaluations are preliminary.

“The jury’s still out on how much damage is done,” said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association and administrator of the South Texas Onion Committee. “We’re hoping that it is modest at this point.”

Acreage has dropped over the past five years for many growers, McClung said.

“If you go back over the years, the last couple of years have been down quite a bit,” he said.

Several factors contributed to that, he said, including issues with reporting and poor returns.

With two seasons of strong spring onion prices, however, some growers are coming back.

“It’s most definitely the market,” said Curtis DeBerry, president of Progreso Produce Ltd., Boerne, Texas.

DeBerry said he’s not had any significant increases in acreage this year.

Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House, Weslaco, Texas, said a lot of the new acreage planted can be attributed to growers hoping for a high market like last year.

“We’re seeing the same thing here,” he said. “They think about last year where these guys sold $20, $30 and $40 onions. They’re always hoping that lightning will strike twice.”

The Rio Grande Valley has a lot of options. Some growers may try a year of onions instead of grain or cotton, depending on prices, said David DeBerry, onion category manager for Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce Ltd.

“This whole area fluctuates over time,” he said. “If you just take a single snapshot of one year and compare it to any other random year, it’s never exactly the same. Total onion acreage doesn’t fluctuate too much over a 10-year period.”