It is that in-between time of year when the storage crop of onions is heading toward its own finish line and the new crop of domestic onions has not yet gotten out of the blocks. This is especially impactful on organic onions because the earliest fresh onion deals are not heavily invested in the organic onion category.
Jessica Peri of Peri & Sons Farms Inc., Yerington, NV, told OPN this week, “We are nearing the end of the storage crop. Our organic onions will be in short supply until late April when we start up again with the new crop from El Centro (California’s Imperial Valley). Our goal is to stretch what we have in storage until the new supplies start. I think there will be a little bit of a gap.”
Jessica Peri, Peri & Sons Farms Inc.
She noted that there is more seasonality to organic onion supplies than some other crops because there are some districts that are still lagging behind in their organic production.
Currently fresh onions are coming out of Mexico through Texas and by late March, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas will begin harvesting and shipping its own fresh onions. Don Ed Holmes of The Onion House in Weslaco, Texas, said there are few organic onions coming from Mexico or Texas as past efforts haven’t proven to be very successful, so growers have been reluctant to embrace that opportunity. He remembers several years ago when a crop of organic onions had to be sold as conventional onions because there was no market.
However, Russon Holbrook of South Tex Organics in Mission, TX, said times are changing. The company has long been a grower of organic citrus and row crops and it has been increasing its acreage of yellow and red organic onions in recent years. “We were lined up to have our biggest onion crop ever this year, but rain caused us to miss part of the planting season and we couldn’t get the seed in the ground.”
Consequently, the firm’s organic onion crop will be about the same as last year and it looks like it’s going to come off a bit later. In 2018, there were organic onions from the region by mid-March. This year, Holbrook said it doesn’t appear the company will have any onions until later in the month. And even that timing, he said, is subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
“We are in a delicate time right now. The crops look good and the plants look healthy, but we need to get through early March without too much rain or hail. It looks like we should have onions in mid to late March,” Holbrook said.
Assuming the crop gets through the next several weeks, Holbrook said the timing typically allows the firm to market its organic crop without much competition. “We usually have a three to six-week window to ourselves before Vidalia and the other spring regions start producing.”
This year, the Vidalia Onion Committee has preliminarily listed the start date for its production as April 22, but that is subject to change as the season nears. In fact, the start date will get an update on March 11, which is when the committee will assess the crop’s progress and establish a more firm beginning of the season.
John Shuman, President, Shuman Produce
In the meantime, there are organic Peruvian onions on the market, but they are also quickly moving to the end of their season. John Shuman, President of Shuman Produce in Vidalia, said “Peruvian supplies are winding down in early March. Vidalia organics look good as of today and we expect a normal crop of organic Vidalia onions. Our acreage is slightly up, with about a 25 percent increase in expected organic production. We expect them to start within a week or so of the Vidalia start date.”
Meanwhile, Peri said the market has been strong on organic onions with about a $10 premium over conventional onions on a 50-pound bag, which equates to a 20 cents per pound upcharge. She said that gap could increase during the March/April time frame when organic onion supplies are light. Holbrook said the premium is an important advantage as organic onions are much more costly to grow because of the hand labor needed to reduce the pest and weed pressure.