(Nov. 28) What goes up, must come down.

The 2006-2007 onion season was characterized by very low supplies worldwide, high demand and record prices.

This season, grower-shippers say, is a different story.

“The market is down and dirty,” said Justin Ensor, owner of Rocky Ford, Colo.-based onion shipper Griffin-Holder Co. Inc. “It’s one of the worst years we’ve had.”

On Nov. 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $5 for 50-pound sacks of super colossal yellow Spanish hybrid onions from Idaho, down from $16-18 last year at the same time.

Fifty-pound sacks of large white onions from Idaho were $8, down from $14 last year at the same time.

Prices also are below the three-year f.o.b. average for 2003-2005, when both super colossal yellows and large whites averaged about $9 per fifty-pound sack.

Kent Sutherland, sales manager for J.C. Watson Co., Parma, Idaho, was slightly more optimistic.

“Markets are pretty flat now, but we could see an increase due to holiday pull,” he said.

Brisk movement was in part making up for the low prices, said John Wong, sales manager for Champion Produce Inc., Parma, Idaho.

Also, Wong said, the excellent skin quality on this season’s crop could mean product will store longer, possibly widening the Northwest’s marketing window, he said.

But those silver linings don’t change the fact that the industry is under a cloud right now, Wong said.

“At this point there doesn’t seem to be a lot of optimism,” he said. “We’ve never been able to recover from the down market at the beginning of the season.”

That down market, Wong said, was caused by California’s deal going longer than usual due to poor weather earlier in the season.

Ensor traces the sluggish markets in part to high yields in the Pacific Northwest. But also to blame, he said, are growers who saw dollar signs during last season’s boom and planted too many onions this season.