( Photo courtesy Ashely Nickle )

Organics are still a niche category in the Texas onion business, but they still grow — and sell, suppliers say.

“The country eats 400 40,000-pound loads of onions a day, and I doubt 1% of that is organic,” said Don Ed Holmes, owner of Weslaco, Texas-based grower-shipper The Onion House. 

“But, we’ve had more people asking for them the last two or three months.”

New disease-resistant varieties are helping the organic category achieve some growth, Holmes said.

“Varieties that have disease resistance may help them with organic; it would be hard to raise onions down here organically without them,” he said.

The major organic onion grower-shipper in the Rio Grande Valley is South Tex Organics LLC in Mission, which has about 75 acres of organic onions this year, said Dennis Holbrook, president.

“We’ve had ideal growing conditions, so that’s been good; the crop is progressing quite well,” he said.

Quality and sizing of the organic onions look “normal” this year, Holbrook said, noting that the season will run roughly from about mid-March to the end of April.

Organic onion production seems to be trending upward, Holbrook said. However, he noted, volumes are perhaps more weather-dependent than those on the conventional side.

“Last year, weather was a major factor in limiting acres; our acres were about half of what we have this year,” he said. 

“We ran into a wet spell and it was very difficult to get onions planted. This year, it’s a complete different onion situation.”

New varieties have helped organic production, Holbrook said.

“Obviously, if you have onions that are more resistant to diseases, you’re going to have more success in raising them and getting them to harvest,” he said. 

“Disease has always been more challenging because we don’t have the same arsenal of tools conventional growers have. When you have breeding that has allowed you to have more onions that are resistant to disease, it gives you more opportunity to succeed.”

Organic onion production can be “touchy” in South Texas, because of the prevailing high humidity, said Dante Galeazzi, manager of the South Texas Onion Committee in Mission.

“Weather, humidity and pests are big challengers; however, there are several growers that have found ways to succeed and they put out a phenomenal product,” he said. 

“As the science and techniques improve, I would expect to see organic acreage grow over the years to come.”

It should be a typical year, said David DeBerry, president of McAllen, Texas-based Southwest Onion Growers LLC, which grows and ships organic onions.

“Our organic acreage is about the same as last year,” he said. 

“Generally late March through early May (is when we) harvest and ship.” 

The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Exposition & Conference (GOPEX) provides a forum to meet the rapidly changing needs of professionals who grow, distribute, pack and market organic produce. This international trade show and conference provides the ideal opportunity for organic produce professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas, source new products and services, and do business with the industry's leading growers, distributors, packers, marketers and retailers. 

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