Miguel Ognio, general manager of Key Peru SA, checks the progress of a Peruvian sweet onion
Miguel Ognio, general manager of Key Peru SA, checks the progress of a Peruvian sweet onion

U.S.-bound onion shipments out of Peru were picking up in 2014 about a month later than they did a year earlier, according to importers.

Crop quality looked good, although size profiles were trending a bit smaller at the outset of the deal, they said in early September.

The deal started slowly in July, as opposed to late June in 2013, and should run into February, said Karl Bonhomme, president of Miami-based Bonhomme International Trading Corp.

Production appeared to be normal in early September, and there were no issues evident with the crop, Bonhomme said.

“It will be a smaller-size crop, with a lot of mediums, but the majority of the people seem to be filling orders without any incidents, especially as far as weather and as far as production,” said Bonhomme, whose company imports onions from Peru and Chile.

By early September last year, Peru already had finished 30% to 40% of the production, Bonhomme said.

“This year, it seems more organized, and the farmers are happy with the price. They are happy also with the yield in general, and price seems to be at a good level in the U.S. market for the importers, and we are hopeful that production will not exceed demand. And I don’t see it coming.”

Peru grows sweet onions on about 5,000 acres, primarily in the Ica region, about a 3½-hour drive south of Lima. Bonhomme said acreage is about the same as last year.

As of Sept. 15, 40-pound cartons of jumbo yellow granex marked sweet onions from Peru were priced at $21-22, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year earlier, the same product was $15-17 for colossals and jumbos.

Ralph Diaz, export and import sales manager with Sunbury, Pa.-based Karpinski Trucking & Produce, which is in its second year in the Peruvian onion deal, said a higher early market in 2014 was a sign of improvement.

“There is already a better feel this year based off of the quality that has already arrived into the U.S.,” he said.

He described pricing last year as lackluster and said early prices this year were promising.

“We feel pricing this year will be a little more consistent throughout the season,” he said.

Diaz also said there are more signs of interest in the Peruvian onions this year than last.

“We feel once the consumer gets to see the nice quality product coming out of Peru, there will be good demand throughout the season,” he said.

The crop was shaping up nicely, said Mauro Suazo, business development manager for Medley, Fla.-based importer Customized Brokers Inc.

“All areas have been having pretty good deals and pretty nice and consistent quality,” he said, saying overall quality “probably is a bit better” than the previous year’s crop.

John Shuman, president of Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc., agreed the crop was slow to get going this year, but plenty of onions were arriving in the U.S. by the second week of September.

“The overall crop is average in both overall size and profile with some of the best quality we’ve seen in several years,” he said.

Walt Dasher, co-owner of Glennville, Ga.-based grower-shipper G&R Farms, agreed.

“I was there in July, and the crop looks outstanding,” he said.

His crews had started harvesting light volumes in mid-August, he said.

“Typically we won’t hit with heavy volumes until September and into October,” Dasher said.

The crop looked uniform and the size profile looked better than a year ago, Dasher said.

“One thing that stood out was the healthiness of the tops was a lot better,” he said.

“I didn’t see near the browning of tops and the quills weren’t dying back. Last year, there were some cases of that, which will affect the size, and, of course, can affect the overall quality. But this year, we’re on target for a very high-quality crop.”

Cooler-than-normal weather caused the delay in the start of the deal, said Delbert Bland, owner of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC.

“That’s a terrific area to grow onions,” he said. “There’s no rain or humidity involved.”

Mark Breimeister, sales director with Savannah, Ga.-based Oso Sweet affiliate Saven Corp., described the crop as shaping up well.

“Most of the main volume probably won’t come in until early October, but the quality on our initial deliveries has been fantastic, with good size and excellent appearance,” he said.

Marty Kamer, vice president of Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., said he anticipates a successful season.

“Over the past several years, demand for sweet onions has been steadily increasing. This demand has been fueled by increased consumer awareness and a growing popularity of sweet onions,” he said.