Based on what I learned on a recent trip to Idaho and Eastern Oregon’s Treasure Valley, the strong onion markets of the past few months could stay that way well into fall.

Strong demand for onions to remain

Andy Nelson
Markets Editor

A recent government report confirms just how strong those markets still are. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service’s July Agricultural Prices report, onion prices averaged $24.20 per cwt. in July, up from $10.80 last year at the same time.

From 2005 to 2009, the average price for July was $14.

The July price is down from the June 2010 average price of $29.20, but the message remains: When shippers told me as far back as early spring that markets would be tight through the summer, their crystal balls were crystal clear.

And now, it also seems clear that the bad weather that wreaked havoc on onion fields in Georgia and other growing regions had a similar affect on the Treasure Valley.

Temperatures during the early growing season were as much as 15 degrees below normal for long periods of time, shippers told me. As if that weren’t enough, a very wet May threw another wrench into things.

By the end of July, plants were healthy but onions were sizing anywhere from half to three-quarters of an inch smaller than normal in many fields.

A few weeks of hot, sunny weather could change things significantly in the Treasure Valley, but some shippers are still tentatively forecasting yield losses in the 5% to 25% range.

A two- to three-week delay in the start of harvest, with most growers not expected to get under way until late August at the earliest, will put more pressure on markets to at least stay where they are.

Other crops

Onions weren’t the only commodities covered in the July USDA report to see price gains over last year.

Apples, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, celery, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, pears, snap beans and tomatoes all sold for more this July than last.

The biggest gainers percentage-wise — other than onions — were apples and lettuce. The average price of apples rose from 17 cents per pound in July 2009 to 30 cents this July. Lettuce prices climbed from $16.90 per cwt. to $29.70.

Commodities that saw price drops, meanwhile, included peaches, strawberries, cauliflower and sweet corn.

Percentage-wise, sweet corn saw the biggest drop, falling from $34.60 per cwt. last July to $18.10 this July.

E-mail anelson@thepacker.com

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