As Texas onion shippers started clipping onions in late March and early April, hopes are high that the market will remain steady.
A possible early finish in the Northwest U.S. and Mexico and a possible late start to Vidalia could be the perfect storm for Texas onions, said Chris Eddy, sales and operations director for Frontera Produce LLC, Edinburg, Texas.
“We’re looking for the market to stay strong pretty much through April,” he said.
In early April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Mexico crossings through South Texas of 50-pound sacks of yellow grano colossals were $39-40 while jumbos were $38-40. Fifty-pound sacks of white jumbos were $65.
Cooler-than-average weather with cloudy skies through most of the growing season — including a freeze in January — have onions peaking smaller than usual as well.
“Across the board we’re thinking that the yields are going to be lower than average,” said Margret DeBruyn, president of Zeeland, Mich.-based DeBruyn Produce.
DeBruyn estimated yields averaging 500 to 600 50-pound equivalents per acre compared to an average yield of 750 to 800.
Sizing also is looking smaller than usual, Eddy said, with the majority of the onions trending toward mediums rather than jumbos and colossal. The smaller yields are mostly because of cold, cloudy weather and a freeze in January.
Growers were concerned about bolting, but so far that hasn’t been a widespread problem said Mike Martin, president of Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas.
“I don’t know about other growers, but we had some fields impacted by disease,” he said. “Those are our earliest fields that have had reduced yields and size. There were no major issues with pests, but we had been concerned about the possibility of bolting, but it has been a very minor issue.”
Most growers got started around the first week in April.
“It is hard to predict total volume at this point, but we are definitely limited right now,” he said. “I see moving to more normal volume by the week of April 19.”
The unusual weather and shortage of onions even has some Texas onions going to the Mexican market, said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association.
Instead of going to processors, culls were going to the fresh market because the prices were so high, he said.
“We can’t do that to our own culls domestically, but there is a considerable market for less than No. 1 onions,” he said.
J Carnes, president of Uvalde, Texas-based Winter Garden Produce, said he expects to start harvesting onions by May 10.
Yields in the Winter Garden region also suffered from a cold, dreary winter, he said.
“We had geared up to add more onions this year and jumped up acreage a bit,” he said. “But because of the winter we’ve had I don’t think that’s going to correlate to any more yields or packages available. It’s going to be a tight crop this year.”