(April 9) PARMA, Idaho — More than two dozen onion growers in California, Texas and Mexico unknowingly planted 1,500 acres of the wrong variety of onion last fall after receiving mislabeled seeds from Sunseeds Co., and shippers are wondering how the market will react to a sudden influx of flat sweet onions.

A Sunseeds representative said the company is investigating the allegations of a flat variety being labeled as the round don victor variety. Although the lot number in question — 06918 — has been recalled, the company is not admitting fault at this point.

“Sunseeds is investigating this matter,” said Ton van der Velden, the onion crop sales manager for Sunseeds.

GROWERS CONTACTED

Van der Velden said Sunseeds has contacted most of the 30 growers who received the seeds. Although the onion is similar to the flat sweet onion grown in Vidalia, Ga., vander Velden said the company hasn’t traced the actual variety.

No onions grown in Georgia are involved, van der Velden said. The majority of the flat onions, 700 acres, were planted in the Imperial Valley, Calif.

Another 400 acres were in Texas and the remaining 400 were in Mexico and Northern California, vander Velden said.

Shippers said the onions are producing good crops, but they’re left with faster-maturing onions that will complicate their harvest/marketing schedule.

The switch is particularly troublesome to onion processors, whose equipment won’t accept the flat onions. The Imperial Valley deal leans heavily toward contracted acreage, shippers said.

“Something got mixed up somewhere,” said Steve Gill, owner of Gills Onions, Oxnard, Calif., who is contracted to accept 125 acres of the flat onions from the Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico area, and 100 acres in the Imperial Valley. Harvest on the Mexican acreage began the first week of April, and the Imperial Valley deal will start May 10-20, Gill said.

Gills Onions will have enough other contracted acreage to cover its needs, Gill said, but he’s still forced to buy the contracted onions, to be sold on the fresh market.

There are about 3,600 acres of onions in the Imperial Valley this spring.

“These were outside growers, and we’re responsible for getting rid of (the onions),” he said.

TWO PROBLEMS

Sunseeds became aware of the situation on March 12, and representatives have been meeting with growers in the affected areas.

“We’ve got two problems. One, they’ll come off earlier than the don victors, and it could hurt production where there are too many ready at once,” said Justin Ensor, owner of Griffin-Holder Onion Co. Inc., a Rocky Ford, Colo.-based company that had 35 acres of flat onions in California. “Also, the Imperial Valley, as a whole, is heavily contracted to processors, and they can’t use the flat onions.”

Chad Szutz, sales manager for vegetable grower A-W Produce Co. Inc., Weslaco, Texas, said 150 of the company’s 450 acres came from the mislabeled lot. Szutz said he’s concerned about his acreage that’s under contract.

“It looks like the market prices are going to be higher than the contract prices, and someone’s going to have to pay for the difference,” Szutz said. “Today, jumbos are $8 (for a 50-pound bag) and most contracts are between $6-7. That’s a sizeable difference if you’re talking 30 loads at a dollar a bag. We can’t absorb that loss.”