The U.S. spring and summer onion deal has gotten off to a slower-than-usual start, and sizing should be a bit smaller on some varieties. However, grower-shippers still believe there will be ample, good-quality onions, albeit at higher prices.

Early-season prices were through the roof.

On April 29, 40-pound cartons of jumbo Vidalia onions were mostly $30 compared to mostly $16 on the same date last year, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

At the same time, 50-pound sacks of yellow onions from Texas ranged from mostly $26-28 for mediums to $35-36 for supercolossal, about five times what they cost a year ago.

On May 10, The USDA reported 40-pound cartons of jumbos out of Vidalia going for $26-28 and mediums for $20-22. Out of Texas, 50-pound sacks of yellow grano supercolossal brought $22-24, colossal brought $22 and jumbos and mediums brought $18.00-20.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected acreage for this year’s spring and summer crops at 43,200 acres. Last year’s acreage for the same period was 44,800, according to the National Onion Association, Greeley, Colo.

Volume last spring and summer was about 35.6 million 50-weight, but this year’s volume for the same period should be significantly lower, said Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association.

Volume for the summer segment alone, which does not include the Vidalia crop, was about 16.3 million 50-weight last year. This year, it may be down, but not down as much as the spring crop, Mininger said.

Vidalia's rough start

The Vidalia crop got off to a rough start — down about 30% from normal, and about 10 days behind schedule — said Barry Rogers, president of Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla.

He attributed the troubles to cold, wet weather that started in December, when growers couldn’t get into the fields to plant for up to 20 days. And they weren’t able to catch up in January.

Although he expected promotable volume on medium sizes, he said supplies of jumbos and colossals likely will be down.

The Vidalia Onion Committee reported that growers shipped 4.5 million 40-pound units last year, down about 20% from normal, and Wendy Brannen, executive director, said she expected similar volume this year.

It won’t be an ideal year for Vidalias, she said, “but I think we will turn out OK.”

Shortages probably won’t turn up until harvesting starts on the later varieties, which were most affected by adverse growing conditions, said John Shuman, president and director of sales for Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga.

“Production is very nice right now in Georgia,” he said April 26.

Growers still could see a decent crop if the weather does not get too hot during May, he said.

The company will market 1,800 acres of Vidalias this season and should be able to meet the needs of its retail partners, he said.

“This is a good season to promote bags, since the Vidalia crop is yielding more mediums,” he added.

Marty Kamer, partner and vice president at Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa., said he was extremely pleased with the initial quality of the Vidalias his company started packing April 27.

Even if Vidalia prices are higher than usual this year, Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga., expects good movement because of the high quality.

“The taste is going to be terrific this year,” he said.

The Vidalia area wasn’t the only area to suffer bad weather this winter.

Texas crop

Industrywide, the Texas crop could be down as little as 5% to as much as 20%, said David DeBerry, president of David K. DeBerry Inc., Edinburg, Texas.

One ranch in southern Texas received 17 inches of rain over a four-day period, he said.

But he was optimistic about the remainder of the season.

“Our personal May crop may be the best crop ever grown in Texas,” he said, with significant yields and excellent quality.

The onions have long, tall tops with deep, green color and are “just healthy as can be,” he said.

The company expects to harvest in Texas until June 19.

New Mexico also had a cold, wet winter, though not as wet as Texas, said James Johnson, vice president of Carzalia Valley Produce, Columbus, N.M.

Johnson expected to start harvesting on schedule in early June.

“I think quality will be good,” he said in late April, but he expected volume in New Mexico to be down as much as 25% compared to last year.

He attributed part of the drop to difficulty some growers had obtaining financing.

In Walla Walla, Wash., acreage of Walla Walla Sweets could be off 15% because of winter weather damage, said Bryon Magnaghi, general manager of the Walla Walla Gardeners’ Association Inc.

Spring brought alternating periods of cool and warm weather, but it did not affect the onions, he said.

“The onions are progressing nicely,” he said in late April, with good sizing expected when harvesting gets under way in mid-June.

“We should have a good supply of jumbos and colossals,” he said.