(May 16, 12:52 p.m.) Onion marketers are taking varying approaches to the export market.

Some note that the market is shrinking.

Others are working to expand the export market for their own companies.

“We’re exporting to the Netherlands right now,” said Michael Hively, general manager of Glennville, Ga.-based Vidalia onion grower-shipper Bland Farms LLC. “They want a medium sweet onion. This is our first year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Shipments were scheduled to run between April 21 and May 21, he said.

“If it works, we’ll look into similar things elsewhere,” Hively said. “We have a comfort level with this gentleman. If it works, then we’ll start focusing on maybe France or the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe.”

The weakness of the dollar compared to the euro made it a good time to try this experiment, Hively said.

“It’s a good time, but the quality of the onion has evolved the last four or five years that now we have a good shipping onion that can travel 21 days on the water with no problem at all,” he said.

Other shippers say they hesitate to ship a sweet onion — known for a shorter shelf life than other varieties — to overseas markets.

“That’s a problem with having a product that’s as perishable as these,” said Don Ed Holmes, owner of the Weslaco, Texas-based Onion House LLC. “When 1015s came out, we shipped some to Oslo, Norway. We put them on a boat, and about three weeks later they arrived. The guy on the other end called, and you could hear him scream after putting the phone down. That’s generally been the deal here.”

Hardier onions like those grown in the Pacific Northwest are better suited to overseas travel, Holmes said.

“People in Washington and Idaho and Oregon are real good at it,” he said. “They do it every year. They’re familiar with the way to ship them. One, they’re starting with a product that’s ideal for that — they’re hard as a rock. It’s a good solid hard product that’s suited for that. They know how do to the freight, and they’re familiar with the people in Japan, Taiwan and Korea.”

Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association, said the international onion market is competitive.

“Eight percent of the world’s onion production moves from the country of origin to the country it’s consumed,” he said. “That’s significant when you think about it. Whether it’s moving onions from India to Pakistan, or from Holland to Russia, or from Peru to the U.S. or from New Zealand to Germany, onions are moving around the world all the time in raw form.”

The single largest foreign consumer of U.S.-grown onions is Canada, Mininger said.

“With the increasing currency exchange value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar, it has made the U.S.’s onions actually more of a value in Canadian markets,” he said. “That’s the positive. At the same time, we’ve lost a lot of the Japanese opportunities to the cheap onions that run up into Japan now out of China. So there’s excitement on one hand and distress on the other because there just isn’t near the opportunity in Japan as there was five years ago.”

Mininger noted Mexico has increased its intake of U.S. onions.

“It’s important to note that Mexico is now a major market,” Mininger said. “We’re seeing a lot of Mexican onions shipped to the U.S., which has been the case for a long time, but now we’re also seeing a lot of U.S.-grown onions go to Mexico.”

For some shippers in the Pacific Northwest, sending a shipment to Canada is no tougher than sending one to a neighboring state.

“Canada is one of our better customers,” said Michael Locati, president of Locati Farms Inc., Walla Walla, Wash. “We’re close to the border and, transportation being what it is, we can get things north pretty easily.”

The parity of the U.S. and Canadian dollars is a benefit in that respect, Locati said.

“It’s basically equal, so dollar-for-dollar that’s good on both sides, really,” he said. “There aren’t any tariffs or anything like that. When the government starts messing around with it, that’s when problems begin.”

Chris Eddy, sales manager of the McAllen, Texas, office of Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., said his company also has a good business in Canada.