A give-and-take relationship with the Earth’s resources long has been part of doing business for Texas onion growers.
Growers rely heavily on the Rio Grande and the lower valley’s system of dams and reservoirs to ensure that their water needs are met. Some years, they say, are a struggle — others aren’t so bad.
This year, water doesn’t seem to be a problem.
“Right now, the dams are doing fine,” said Tommy Whitlock, onion salesman with Grasmick South LLC in Pharr, Texas.
“There are two dams down here, and at both of them, the reservoirs are full, so we have no water problems — not this year. We have had problems in the past, but not this year.”
Such has not always been the case, said Bill Burns, owner of Burns Farms Inc. in McAllen, Texas.
“The last few years, we have had a water shortage,” he said.
“We had enough to grow crops, but the dam was getting pretty low and we did have to watch what water we used. We use overhead irrigation. That’s all well in hand. We haven’t had any real problems with shortages of water.”
It helps, growers and shippers note, that there’s a go-green philosophy enveloping the industry, which further reminds them of the precarious nature of their relationship with the land.
Most onion producers seem to be instituting their own sustainability programs, in line with that growing trend.
“There’s certainly an awareness that these kinds of practices are desirable,” said John McClung, one of whose numerous roles in the region’s produce industry is manager of the Mission-based South Texas Onion Committee.
Irrigation is a major component of the sustainability discussions in the region, McClung said.
“Flood irrigation is not particularly efficient use of any resource,” he said. “Drip irrigation has disadvantages, not the least of which is cost. All these technologies have appeal, but they have a down side, generally.
“We’re looking at what the options are, but at the moment our water supply is adequate. These are the kinds of changes that will come in time and will be done on a national level, for the most part.”
Irrigation practices are part of the program at Boerne, Texas-based onion grower-shipper Progreso Produce.
“We’re 100% drip on everything we do in Mexico and the U.S.,” said Curtis DeBerry, the company’s owner.
That’s just one component of Progreso’s sustainability initiative, DeBerry added.
“We’re big with recycled stuff,” he said.
The Weslaco, Texas-based Onion House is using more returnable plastic containers as part of its program, said Don Ed Holmes, the owner.
“With RPCs, we see probably every year we’re using more and more,” he said. “There again, some people require that, and some don’t. It’s all driven by the end users.”
In Mission, Rio Queen Citrus Inc. is diversifying its portfolio of sustainability measures, said Mike Martin, president.
“We are constantly working on ways to save on all inputs like energy, water, fertilizers, etc.,” Martin said.
“It just makes good business sense. This is something successful producers have always worked on.”
Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce LLC, which ships its own products as well as those of other growers, said it is focused on recyclable products, said Chris Eddy, sales and operations director.
“We’re always looking at sustainable packaging option,” he said. “There are beginning to be bag and carton options that can be completely be recycled.
“We have made some progress in the packaging arena. And when it comes to growing practices, we use drip irrigation when we can versus flood irrigation that uses more water than you would need.”