By this time of year, Texas onion shippers usually hit their peak.
With competing areas still shipping strong volumes and the effects of an early February freeze shooting up every day, shippers aren’t optimistic about salvaging what’s left of the season.
“This season has really been a reality check for us,” said Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House LLC, Weslaco, Texas.
The freeze hit Texas in early February but didn’t affect Mexican growers as much, although it did cause some delays.
“We kept thinking those onions would be two weeks earlier, and when they didn’t show up we hoped they disappeared,” Holmes said. “And then they showed up.”
The Northwest storage crop also hasn’t cleared out yet, but should soon, said David DeBerry, onion category manager for Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce Ltd.
“The quality has been very good out of Mexico this year, but now we’re starting to show some weakness as far as shelf life,” he said. “I think probably because of the high temperatures in Mexico, their product will start to fall off pretty dramatically after the week of April 4.”
The onion market, which hit unheard of highs last season, was at rock bottom in early April. There are signs that the market is improving, said Margret DeBruyn, president of Zeeland, Mich.-based DeBruyn Produce.
“Today alone we’re seeing a little bit of a change, just within the medium prices alone,” DeBruyn said April 5. “There’s a window here where we can start to get back to a place where onions aren’t selling for $3.25 a bag. That’s shameful almost.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices on April 4 coming out of the lower Rio Grande Valley for 40-pound cartons of yellow grano going for $4.50 - 5. Granos jumbos marked sweet in 40-pound cartons went for $8-9.
A year ago, 50-pound sacks yellow grano jumbo and 40-pound cartons of jumbo yellow grano marked sweet went for $38-40.
DeBruyn said situations like this call for better communication.
“Cost of inputs is rising. We really cannot afford these kind of low prices,” she said. “A little strategizing could help Texas and Mexico market. How about honestly telling people how many acres you’re planning to grow? I think the challenge is that over the years we’ve earned this mistrust honestly. We’ve got to have a group of individuals that actually trust each other.”
Grower-shippers weren’t immediately sure how bad the early February freezes would affect the crop.
Those effects, in the form of seed stems, could clamp down supplies later in April.
“There’s more showing up every day, but I don’t know what percentage it will end up being,” said Curtis DeBerry, president of Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce. “Visually, it looks like maybe 5-6%, but it may end up being more as it continues to stay hot.”
Holmes was less optimistic.
“Some fields are anywhere from 5% as high as 40%,” Holmes said.
Cinco de Mayo, a good draw for Texas onion shippers, could be tough this year, said Frontera’s David DeBerry.
“Texas is not going to yield what we thought it would before the freeze,” DeBerry said. “Half of the white onion crop may never be harvested and the red onion crop failure could be as high as 75%. This is the most seeders I’ve seen in my lifetime.”