( Courtesy Keystone Fruit Marketing

Buyers can expect ample onion volumes out of Washington and Oregon this year, suppliers say.

“It’s a good crop so far,” said Brenden Kent, vice president of Prosser, Wash.-based grower-shipper Sunset Produce LLC. “Stand counts are a little lower than last season, but, overall, decent.”

Kent noted that Sunset expects to have direct-seed new-crop onions “by July 27 or earlier,” which would be an on-time start.

“We expect the market to be good when we start,” he said July 10. “We have already had many of our customers calling to get started. They are anxious and ready.”

The Walla Walla sweet onion crop, which was “faring better than expected,” had above-average yields, said Michael Locati, owner/operator of Mike Locati Farms Inc. in Walla Walla, Wash., which started harvesting June 15.

“We had some floods this spring, as well as some winter damage that took some of our crop. However, we have recovered and made up with transplanting more acres. Market is good and so is movement,” Locati said.

Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing, which grows Walla Walla sweets in Washington, started its harvest there June 22, said Dan Borer, general manager of Keystone’s Walla Walla office.

“Right now, we’re just getting rolling on the Walla Walla sweet onions, and that’s typically the first crop out of the Northwest,” he said.

May and June featured cooler-than-normal temperatures, which slowed things up a bit, Borer said.

But, there also was a positive side, Borer noted.

“Sizing was better than expected,” he said. “Packout and quality was pretty darn good — kind of business as normal, as far as onions go. We did have a bit of rain at the end of May, and that sparked the size. The rain really helped. Things are looking good so far.”

Most new-crop onions around the Northwest could encounter a delay or two before the harvest gets underway in earnest, Borer said.

“The long-term forecast for the Northwest was to be above-normal temperatures, but we haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “Going forward, as far as weather, unless this pattern drastically changes, when we get the new crop at the end of July, it might also be delayed a few times.”

When things do pick up, the product likely will fetch good prices, thanks, in part, to the ongoing COVID-29 coronavirus pandemic, Borer said. 

“It’s a very strong market,” he said. “The two things causing it is shorter-than-normal supply and changing demand, based on the pandemic, so, for people like ourselves that are very heavy into retail, it’s been very good business,” he said. 

“If you’re heavy into processing and restaurants and institutions aren’t open, you’re probably suffering.” 

Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange Inc. was looking at a timely crop, said Mackenzie Mills, account manager.

“The crops in the Columbia Basin are on track for harvest, with early onions coming off next month and storage crop onions to follow,” Mills said July 9. “Over-winter onions are just now starting up here in the basin.”

Prosser, Wash.-based grower-shipper Bybee Produce LLC was expecting an on-time start, said Jason Walker, general manager.

“We should start harvesting the middle of July and running the packingshed around the first of August,” he said, noting that Bybee will have reds, yellows and whites to sell.

Weather was not an issue, for the most part, Walker said.

“The last month has been good, but the spring was cooler and windier than normal,” he said. “A little bit of a tough spring.”

Markets should heat up in time for the start of the summer deal, Walker said.

“Right now, in other areas — California and New Mexico — it’s a pretty good market,” he said. “I imagine we’ll see some of that when we start, but when the Northwest comes on, a lot of onions enter the market, so we’ll see how that affects the market.”

Bryon Magnaghi, Walla Walla-based produce trader with Seattle-based FC Bloxom & Co., said weather patterns had settled into a comfortable range for Walla Walla sweets.

“So far what we see looks pretty good,” he said. “The weather has been up and down, but it seems to be in our favor. We haven’t had any super-hot weather. There’s plenty of irrigation, so things seem to be progressing pretty well.”

Demand for Walla Walla sweet onions has been steady, Magnaghi said.

“So far, it has been almost demand-exceeds,” he said. “It’s been good, especially on the bale business.”

Bagged products are selling briskly, thanks, likely, to COVID-19, Magnaghi said.

“Overall, in the onion business, consumers are buying bags at retail, versus bulk; that’s partly COVID-related, I think,” he said. 

“People don’t want to buy as much bulk product, where people maybe have handled the product, so they’re buying 2, 3- and 5-pound bags instead.” 


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