Texas grower-shippers are putting a lot of resources into those consistently sized, excellent-condition onions on retail shelves.
Customers want options, said J Allen Carnes, president of Uvalde, Texas-based Winter Garden Produce. Last year the company upgraded its packing lines to “do the whole nine yards,” Carnes said.
“We have a couple of different lines now,” he said. “That enables us to do more specific packs and things that our customers are asking for.”
Some customers may want a specific, nonstandard size like 3 to 3.25 inches, Carnes said. New baggers also help keep costs down.
“It’s more for the growing end of it than the customer end of it,” he said. “It helps with cost per bag for the growers.”
Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas, has upgraded its onion packing lines as it improved and opened new facilities over the past few years, said Mike Martin, president. Improvements included installing cup sizers, which make a noticeable difference in quality of the onions.
“They’re very gentle versus the traditional chain sizers,” he said. “This sizer gives you the ability to do specific sizes, and it has eliminated a whole lot of mechanical damage. The focus here is really on quality.”
Shippers also have put a lot into getting onions out in a timely fashion. While most prefer to have the hot south Texas sun dry their onions in the field, having dryers on hand helps take the guesswork out of shipments.
“Most of us prefer to field cure, for the most part,” said Curtis DeBerry, owner of Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce Ltd. “We have all the dryers, but unless there’s rain we try to dry outside. We get a better appearance and they get banged around less.”
Don’t let that conjure an image of onions left in fields in burlap bags, however.
“We’ve gone more than 80% to field bins, both in our Mexico and Texas operations,” DeBerry said.
Martin said he also prefers to field dry as much as possible.
“Last year was the year we really needed the dryers,” he said. “Hopefully this year we won’t as much. It just takes heat and sun.”
Field drying also saves quite a bit of money for growers, as they don’t have to pay for the electricity to run the machinery.