Cold, wet weather will delay the start of the Walla Walla sweet onion deal, but quality should be good and yields normal, shippers say.

“It’s been an interesting year,” said Bryon Magnaghi, general manager for Walla Walla Gardeners’ Association Inc., Walla Walla, Wash.

The growing year actually started off in fairly normal fashion, Magnaghi said.

Walla Walla onions typically are seeded in the fall. That went as scheduled, as did, despite a few cold spells, the winter.

Then things started to get strange, Magnaghi said.

“Spring came, but it still wanted to be winter,” he said.

Thanks to excessive cold and moisture, plants are about a week to ten days behind schedule, Magnaghi said.

“We need some warm weather and sunshine,” he said. “I’d be surprised if there’s anything before the 24th (of June), and it could be later.”

Unfortunately, the late May forecast wasn’t cooperating, with mediocre weather at best projected, Magnaghi said.

Size, however, was projected to be normal, Magnaghi said.

“Size-wise, they seem to be coming along fine,” he said.

Also on the bright side, growers reported no disease problems in late May, and overall quality seemed to be good, Magnaghi said.

“There are a few seeders in different fields, but nothing very serious,” he said.

After low yields in 2010, 2011 yields should return to normal levels, Magnaghi said. The Gardeners’ Association expects acreage to be similar to last season.

Dan Borer, general manager of Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., said the company will likely begin shipping in late June.

Despite the late start, Keystone still expects to finish on time, in mid- to late August, Borer said.

The company’s acreage is expected to be up about 15% over last year, Borer said.

That will restore Keystone to a more typical acreage level, he said. Last season, a seed shortage meant the company couldn’t get as many transplants as it wanted, he said.

The cold, wet weather should have little effect on the crop, Borer said, other than delaying it.

“By all respects the quality looks good, the yields look good,” he said.

There was a chance onions could be on the small side when harvest begins, but warm, dry weather during harvest causes later onions to size up very quickly, he said. Such was the case with this season’s Vidalia crop, and the same could be true for Walla Wallas, he said.

Terry Bergevin, a Walla Walla-based sweet onion grower, agreed with Magnaghi that the deal would be late because of weather-related problems, but he disagreed with him on size.

“Size might be a problem,” he said. “Other than that, I think they’re all right. The crop looks a little rough, but we’re not too worried.”

Bergevin typically ships about 70% jumbos and 30% mediums. Mediums will likely make up more than 30% of the mix this season, he said.

Bergevin expects to begin shipping about June 25, at least a week later than normal.

Acreage should be similar as last year, he said.

“We’re quite a ways behind,” said Stefan Matheny, product development manager of Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms LLC.

River Point’s harvest is slated to begin at the end of June, 10 days later than normal, Matheny said.

The cool weather won’t likely affect quality and yields, he said, but sizing could be affected. River Point’s 2011 acreage is slightly up from last year, Matheny said.

Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director of marketing for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, Walla Walla, said acreage would likely be similar for the industry as a whole, too.

Growers are expected to ship Walla Wallas grown on about 1,000 acres, similar to last year and unchanged for about the past four or five years, Fry-Trommald said.

“It seems to be a comfortable level for us,” Fry-Trommald said of the current acreage level.

Growers were expected to begin harvesting about June 20, a couple of weeks later than normal, Fry-Trommald said.

At the beginning of June growers were working feverishly to get caught up after the cold, wet start to the spring, she said.

“Things are going real good. They’re taking it a day at a time.”

The late start won’t likely affect the deal’s end, she said.

“We’ll still ship through the end of August.”

Harry Hamada, manager of Walla Walla River Packing & Storage LLC, Walla Walla, expected his company to begin shipping about June 20.

Despite the cool, wet spring, the effects on the crop were expected to be minimal, Hamada said.

“The onions have been progressing fine,” he said. “Everything looks good, quality-wise.”

As of early June, sizing also was expected to be normal, Hamada said. Walla Walla River’s acreage is similar to last year, he said.