(April 12) Lingering storage onion supplies are causing the seasonal instability of f.o.b.s as customers, enticed by falling prices, gravitate from fresh to storage crops.

“It’s almost like a leash on a dog,” said Don Ed Holmes, president of The Onion House LLC, Weslaco, Texas. “We’ll get our prices up to $6-7-8 (for 50 pounds), as people start coming in, then a lot of people say they can go back to the old crop at $2.50 (for 50 pounds). Today, the sun is out, and we’re back in business, but everybody went back to the storage crop, and now we’re dropping to $5.”

The major shippers in Idaho-eastern Oregon were packing the last of their onions for the season by April 12, and the remaining U.S. storage supplies were at less than 5% of the crop, including onions being stored for processors. April 1 stocks were at 3.67 million 50-pound units, according to the National Onion Association, Greeley, Colo.

Over the past five years, shippers had an average of 2.81 million 50-pound units on April 1. That figure includes onions held for processing.
Wayne Minninger, executive vice president of the association, said the storage crop is holding out a bit longer this year, but supplies will dwindle fast. Consumers purchase about 360 loads of onions a day, he said. Each load contains 800 50-pound sacks of onions.

“Because the market has been quite saturated with onions through the winter, there’s an overlapping of seasons, so it obviously has some effect on transitions,” said Minninger, who said the rest of the storage onions should be moving smoothly through the supply chain.

Grant Kitamura, general manager for Murakami Produce Co., Ontario, Ore., said his company finished packing the crop on April 11. He noted that April 1 stocks were lower than two years ago, when shippers had 3.69 million 50-pound units on hand.

“It’s not an unusual or exorbitant amount,” Kitamura said.

On April 11, Holmes said Idaho-eastern Oregon onions were selling for $3-3.50, and Washington onions were selling for $2.50-3. That affected the Texas crop, which was selling for $5; Texas 1015 sweet onions were at $8 on April 11.

As the season wound down in early April last year, Texas Grano-type jumbos were at $8, and Idaho-eastern Oregon were $6 for 50-pound sacks of yellow Spanish hybrids.

Vidalia sweet onion shippers will begin their season April 15, and early shippers can generally enjoy f.o.b.s of $16, said Randy Bolhuis, Vidalia onion salesman for Van Solkema Produce Inc., Byron Center, Mich.

“Usually, Vidalias come out pretty strong, but they’re pretty notorious for dropping fast,” Bolhuis said.

The storage crop prices will have a small effect on the new Vidalia crop, but it could take a few days before the scope is known, he said.

“It does have a bearing, no doubt,” Bolhuis said. “The country eats so many onions a day. Either its onions out of the west or Vidalias.”