Early onion harvest in Treasure Valley. ( Courtesy Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee )

Northwest growers report a strong outlook for the upcoming onion crop, with no big swings in acreage harvested or supply anticipated.

Weather has been favorable for much of the season, though mid-July temperatures turned hot, said Carl Frank, sales manager with Onions Direct, Kennewick, Wash.

“I think the crop is going to be a good crop,” he said.

The growing season through June was ideal, said Stefan Matheny, director of sales for River Point Farms LLC, Hermiston, Ore.

“July has brought some additional heat units to the area, which we are managing through. Overall, at this point the crop looks good, stands are good and plants are healthy.”

Last year, the USDA reported that extended wet conditions that continued until early May in Oregon and Washington delayed plantings by several weeks.

Harvest for Onions Direct is anticipated by early September, he said.

Growing onions in the Columbia Basin, Frank said water has been ample for growers’ needs.

The storage onions will be marketed from September through May, he said.

Early observations indicate a normal season for yields and size profile for Idaho-eastern Oregon onions, said Herb Haun, chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, Parma, Idaho.

“Unlike last season, growers in the Treasure Valley had nice spring weather and were able to get their onion crop planted within normal timeframes,” he said.

For the most part, he said the region had weather conducive to onion growth with no extreme dips or spikes in temperature.

“Early onion quality should be very good and it’s expected the storage varieties will store well all season long,” he said, noting that most shippers will start up in early to mid-August.


Growth, continued

Washington State University reports that storage onion production in Washington state began around 1918 when 440 acres of onions were grown in the state.

In recent years, Washington growers produce over 20% of the nation’s onion supply, according to WSU.

Washington planted onion acreage in 2017 was about 24,000 acres, down from 25,000 acres in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Total value of the 2017 onion crop in Washington, at $129.5 million, was off 30% from $185.7 million in 2016.

Total Oregon planted onion acreage in 2017 was 19,900 acres, up from 19,100 acres the previous season. The value of the Oregon crop was rated by the USDA at $111 million in 2017, down 40% from 2016.

Idaho planted acreage in 2017 was 8,100 in 2017, compared with 9,400 acres in 2016. The value of the Idaho onion crop in 2017 was rated at $47.5 million, up 9% from 2016.

Together Washington, Oregon and Idaho onion acreage of about 52,000 accounted for about 36% of total U.S. onion acreage in 2017.

Of the total U.S. onion supply, the USDA reported 4.3 million cwt. was for the fresh market and 878,951 tons for processing.

The value of the U.S. onion crop was rated by the USDA at $971 million in 2017, up from $954 million in 2016.


Harvest progress

The 2018 crop shows about normal timing, said Dan Phillips, sales manager for Central Produce Distributing Inc., Payette, Idaho. He said harvest there will begin Aug. 6-15.

Supplies will be marketed from storage through the end of March.

The firm expects acreage to be similar to 2017, with a few more acres of reds and about steady yellow onion acreage. Yellow onions account for about 80% of the firm’s crop, Phillips said.

While last year’s size profile was somewhat smaller than average, the 2018 crop appears to show a normal size profile, he said.


Market outlook

With New Mexico finishing up about the time that the Northwest begins, that could stir up demand at the start of the deal, suppliers say.

In the 2017-18 season, the USDA reported that shipping point average prices for jumbo onions from Oregon, Washington and Idaho started at $11.82 per 50-pound sacks in August, rose to $14.36 in September and then traded from $13.77 to $12.27 through February.

Average prices dropped to $8.69 in February and $6.08 in March.