( Courtesy Young Guns Inc. )

By any measure, 2019 was an exceptional year for New Mexico onion marketers, and the outlook for 2020 is again calling for good sizing and quality, suppliers say.

New Mexico accounted for 8.4% of total U.S. onion shipments in 2019, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That compares with 8.59% of domestic shipments in 2018, according to the USDA.

New Mexico’s harvested onion acreage in 2019 was 6,600 acres, down from 7,100 acres harvested both in 2018 and 2017.

However, the value of the 2019 New Mexico onion crop was up sharply compared with 2018. With a value of $102 million in 2019, New Mexico’s crop value was up 29% compared with $79.5 million in 2018.

Yields of New Mexico onions in 2019 were 605 cwt., up from 590 cwt. in 2018 and 680 cwt. in 2017. Total onion production in New Mexico was 3.99 million cwt., down from 4.19 million cwt. in 2018 and much lower than 4.8 million cwt.

2019 review

At 7.94 million 50-pound sacks, the New Mexico crop was slightly lower than 8.1 million 50-pound sacks in 2018, statistics show.

Growers had a historically good year for pricing in 2019. The USDA Market News Service reported that prices for yellow jumbo onions traded in a range of $12-20 per 50-pound sack from early June to mid-August. 

By way of contrast, the USDA said New Mexico yellow jumbo onion prices in 2018 traded at $6-8 per sack in the same time frame. Growers generally plant about 70% yellow onions, with the balance split between reds or whites.

2020 outlook

“Harvest is underway here in New Mexico, and the crop looks fantastic,” said Chris Franzoy, CEO and president of Young Guns Inc., Hatch, N.M. Billy the Kid Produce LLC, Deming, N.M., is the family’s partner company.

While 2019’s market performance for New Mexico onions was “one for the record books,” Franzoy said he expects this year’s crop to move out with big demand.

“We’re optimistic this market will be decent all the way through the summer,” he said. 

Weather has been conducive to good quality, he said, and overall acreage could be similar to a year ago.

Retail sales have been strong and that is expected to continue, he said. 

“We’ve had phenomenal weather here in New Mexico, much better than last year’s weather, and we see the onions sizing very well,” he said.

Jack Humphreys, owner of Zia Onion Sales and Fishing Expeditions, Costilla, N.M., said the firm will have good supplies of New Mexico onions though mid-August, with good sizing expected this year.

Harvest began about May 15 for Barker Produce, said Brandon Barker, president of the Las Cruces, N.M.-based firm.

Barker Produce should have similar acreage to a year ago, and Barker also said the state’s onion acreage was expected to be about the same as 2019. Sizing will be strong, Barker said.

“It will be a good mix for the first few weeks and then we’ll have a little bigger onions toward the end of June and then the first of July,” he said. 

“We’ll start off with a little smaller onions and move up as July goes on.” 

The firm will have New Mexico onions into August.

Steven Smith, president and owner of National Onion Inc., Las Cruces, said the company will offer Mexican onions through early July but will not source any New Mexican onions this year because of a grower death. 

The firm will offer Northwest storage onions by late August, he said. 

On May 28 this year, the USDA reported prices of $9-11 per 50-sacks of New Mexico yellow onions.

Expectations

Despite the slowdown in onion foodservice business related to COVID-19, Barker said the market outlook is positive.

“I think we’re going to be better than most people were expecting,” Barker said. 

“You know, with everything going on, I think we thought it was going to be tough, but now the economy is opening up, and actually the last couple of weeks have been way better than expected,” he said. “It’s good quality and people are really starting to come our way. It’s been a good thing.”

Barker said he expects to foodservice demand will get “better and better as the economy continues to open up.”

Franzoy said the country’s reopening is encouraging.

“We do remain optimistic that things will get going fairly soon,” he said. “And if most of America feels the way I do about this, then we expect huge support (for restaurants),” he said. 

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