( Courtesy Texas International Produce Association )

Favorable planting and growing conditions have onion growers and shippers in South Texas anticipating a timely start and smooth season in 2020.

However, acreage has been trending downward, they note.

Acreage is about 6,000, compared to a “traditional” 7,000, said Dante Galeazzi, manager of the South Texas Onion Committee.

“Although we are used to fluctuations in plantings, this represents a considerable deviation, likely in line with depressed pricing in markets over the last few years,” he said.

There also are other normal challenges for grower-shippers, including labor shortages, as well as pests and disease, Galeazzi said.

“A larger challenge, though, is urbanization,” he said. 

“The dramatic population growth in Texas is increasing the value of land and while most farming is in remote regions, those operations located closer to metropolitan areas — such as Austin, San Antonio or the Rio Grande Valley — means farmers are having to weigh the trade-off between continuing agriculture or transitioning into real estate.”

For the growers who remain, this year’s crop looks promising, Galeazzi said. 

“As of early February, the crop looks great,” he said. 

“Growing conditions have been better than expected. The mild, borderline warmer-than-usual winter is even bringing on the onions early. We’re expecting to see a strong start with plenty of supplies by March.”

The season seemed likely to get underway by mid-March, growers said.

“As always, we’re hoping to see a good market this year through the entire spring, and with the weather pattern holding for South Texas, we should have good supplies for the entire season,” Galeazzi said. 

“That means buyers can approach this year’s market with confidence for sourcing from this part of the world for the next four to five months.”

Some onions could start moving in early March, but the deal will churn in earnest by the middle of the month, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House LLC in Weslaco, Texas. 

“One of the prettier crops in the 43 years I’ve been doing this; we’ve had perfect conditions, very little rain, and temperatures have been very moderate,” he said. 

Quality and sizing will be assets this year, he said.

Market conditions should be reasonable — and might go higher, Holmes said.

“Idaho-Oregon’s crop had some issues with freeze damage; I know they’re starting to show up with quite a few freeze-related issues now,” he said. 

“At some point, they’ll probably pull the plug on it and, when that happens, you’ll see it start to jump.”

As of Feb. 14, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 50-pound sacks of storage yellow Spanish hybrid onions from Idaho and Oregon were $9-11 for supercolossal; $8-10, colossal; $7-8, jumbo; and $5-6, medium. 

A year earlier, the same products were $8-8.50, supercolossal; $7.50-8, colossal; $7-7.50, jumbo; and $7-8, medium.

Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC, which grows onions on about 300 acres in South Texas, anticipates a normal crop, said Delbert Bland, president.

“Everything is moving along,” he said Feb. 12. 

“We’re fixing to start with Mexico next week; Texas is right behind that.”

Harvest in Texas will begin in mid- to late March, Bland said.

“We’ll bring them over as soon as they’re ready and keep them until Georgia starts in mid-April,” he said, referring to his Vidalia crop. 

“We have only about a three-week window in Texas, but we run Perus up through the end of March.”

David DeBerry, president of McAllen, Texas-based Southwest Onion Growers LLC, estimated his crop was 14-20 days ahead of normal.

“Due to above average temperatures this winter, the spring crop is ahead of schedule,” he said. 

“Size, health and distribution of colors all very much on the good to very good side.” 

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