Shippers of Walla Walla sweet onions expect strong demand when their deal gets under way in the second half of June.

A slow start to the spring sweet season was showing signs of turning around well in time for the beginning of the Walla Walla season, slated for the second half of June, said Harry Hamada, manager of Walla Walla River Packing & Storage LLC, Walla Walla, Wash.

“The Vidalias and the 1015s had their struggles, but hopefully that’s behind,” Hamada said. “The market’s picked up a little bit. We’re anxious to get going.”

Bryon Magnaghi, general manager for Walla Walla Gardeners’ Association Inc., Walla Walla, expects brisk movement of Walla Walla sweets in 2011.

“We’re hearing from a lot of customers who are anxious to get started, which is always a good sign,” he said. “We’re anticipating good demand.”

Thanks to a cool, wet spring, that demand won’t likely be satisfied until late June, up to 10 days later than normal, Magnaghi said.

When the Walla Walla deal gets up and running, shippers will be competing with California sweets and storage Vidalias, Magnaghi said.

The fact that Vidalias will be coming out of storage could play a role in demand for Walla Wallas, he said.

“They’ll bring the pricing up to compensate for that added cost,” Magnaghi said.

Sweets also will be shipping from New Mexico, but the reports Magnaghi has heard indicate that volumes could be down there.

Colorado also could be a player in the deal, though in late May Magnaghi had not heard how much of one.

Despite the late start, shippers expect to be far enough along in late June to take full advantage of Fourth of July pull, a traditionally big draw for Walla Walla sweets, said Dan Borer, general manager of Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc.

“We’ll be in full production, and we already had a lot of major ads already set up” for the Fourth, Borer said.

Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director of marketing for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, Walla Walla, said the late start to this year’s deal — in early June harvest was expected to run about two weeks behind schedule, with shipments beginning in late June — won’t dent customers’ demands for Walla Wallas.

“The people I talk to out on the road feel that no onion tastes like a Walla Walla,” she said. “They’re willing to wait for them.”

Stefan Matheny, product development manager of Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms LLC, said Walla Wallas are the first sweet onion out of the gate each year.

By the time the company wraps up its storage onion deals from the previous season, customers are ready for Walla Wallas, Matheny said.

“People are looking for them,” he said. “Demand is usually pretty high.”