Workers check onions in a field for Hill Farms in New Mexico. ( Courtesy Hill Farms )

New Mexico’s onion crop should be strong again this year after a good growing season.

About the only downside has been a drought in the state.

James Johnson, vice president of Columbus, N.M.-based Carzalia Valley Produce Inc., said this year’s crop is right on track. 

“We had a mild winter with a few cold snaps that had little effect on the state as a whole but did thin out a few stands in certain small locations,” he said. 

“It looks like overall acreage is right around the same as last year, and yield and sizing should be right in line with expectations.”

Chris Franzoy, CEO and president of Young Guns Inc., Hatch, N.M., said his family’s partner company, Deming, N.M.-based Billy the Kid Produce LLC, has a strong onion crop this year.

“Yields and quality will be excellent,” Franzoy said. “Aside from a warmer than normal May, conditions have been excellent for growing high quality onions.”

Longino Bustillos, New Mexico state statistician with the National Agricultural Statistics Service, said this year’s crop had all emerged from the ground in late May.

He said no acreage figures will be available until August on this year’s crop, but last year’s onion production was the highest in many years and possibly a record crop.

“I believe New Mexico onion production was a record last year, but I would need some time to go back through historic data to verify,” he said.

He said lack of water has been a problem, but the monsoon season is coming.

“Water is an issue this year with most of the state declared drought disaster,” Bustillos said.

“Because of little to no snow pack in the mountains, the water storage at Elephant Butte reservoir is very low. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District will only be providing surface water for one irrigation.”


Harvest issues

Johnson said this season labor will continue to be a struggle.

“I see the guys that haven’t at least mechanized a portion of their harvest struggling with field help,” he said. “Last year we were probably 95% machine harvest using our Grau System harvester from Spain. This year we look to stay above 90% machine harvest.”

Franzoy echoed the labor issues.

“We need a friendlier H-2A program,” he said. “I believe our government can do better, but it takes both parties coming together on common ground to fix the labor issues. I hope they do something fast before we lose more of our American farmers. I would hate to think about our country having to depend solely on foreign food to survive.”

Johnson said the last few season he’s seen more and more imports.

“We are partially to blame as we have worked with a few specific growers in Mexico to patch some holes in our program,” he said.

“It seems that it may get out of hand as there are a lot of offerings currently out of Mexico, but we are seeing customers either decline to receive the product or pay significantly less for it than a domestic offering.”


Organic rising

Franzoy said he’s seeing the national trend “toward smart food.”

“The plan is to slowly gravitate to organic farming,” he said.

“Farming organic produce is a completely different way to farm. It’s hard work, and lots of prayer to make the crop and get it to market. There are so many different organic-based fertilizers and other inputs, you have to spend a lot of time researching, experimenting to figure out different ideas on how to control weeds, insects and produce a high enough yield to make a profit. It’s not easy.”