(Oct. 29, 4:09 p.m.) Importers of sweet onions from Peru report strong demand, with prices in the $20 range for a 40-pound carton, due in part to lighter volumes.

Seed stem problems were limiting shipments received by DeBruyn Produce Co., Zeeland, Mich., said Bob DeBruyn, president.

“We expected eight or nine containers today, and we got two,” DeBruyn said Oct. 27. “We’re finding there are some substantial seed stem problems.”

Volumes also will be down for Sweet Onion Trading Co., Palm Bay, Fla., said Barry Rogers, president. Instead of bringing in 50% more than it had sold in advance, as it did last year, Sweet Onion Trading is importing just 10% more of unsold product this year, Rogers said.

Industry-wide, volumes in late October were down “substantially” from last year, said John Shuman, president and director of sales for Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga.

That fact, combined with better quality than last year’s crop, has yielded strong markets, Shuman said.

“Demand has been very good,” he said. “F.o.b.s have been $20 for the most part, and I expect that to stay consistent if not firm up a little bit.”

Markets were starting to move in late October, DeBruyn said.

“I think we’ll see a little rumbling around today,” he said Oct. 27.

Prices were in the $20 range in late October for Sweet Onion Trading, though Rogers had heard of lower and higher prices for Peruvian product at the same time.

“Prices are all over the board,” he said. “We’re trying to hold at $20.”

In coming weeks, however, markets should firm up, because growers in Peru are telling importers that late-season supplies could be down, Rogers said.

On Oct. 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $20 for 40-pound cartons of yellow granex onions from Peru, up from $10-12 last year at the same time.

DeBruyn Produce hoped to receive its first Peruvian shipments in August, DeBruyn said, but because of the weather-related problems, the deal didn’t kick off until September. As a result, the pipeline was very clean when Peru took over from Georgia’s Vidalia crop, he said.

Rogers also reported good quality. In late October there was a shortage of medium-sized onions, but he expected that to change in November.

Cool weather and lack of sunlight — conditions almost never associated with Peru — led to the condition problems, DeBruyn said. The quality and size profile of onions that made grade and are being shipped, however, is very good, he added.

Volumes were already expected to be down this season because of lower acreage, DeBruyn said. He did not say exactly how much volumes would be down in 2008-09.

Also, strong cash markets in South America also were limiting the amount of product exported, he said.

DeBruyn Produce expects to ship Peruvian onions into January. The company’s Mexico and Texas sweet onion deals should begin about Feb. 1, DeBruyn said.

Sweet Onion Trading expects to ship Peruvian sweets through mid-January, when the company’s small El Salvadorian deal, a bridge to its much larger Mexican program, takes over, Rogers said.

Shuman Produce plans to ship Peruvian product into mid-February, Shuman said. The company has a late Peruvian deal that harvests in late December and early January, he said.