From Doug Bulgrin at Gumz Farms in Endeavor comes this week’s report on PMA Fresh Summit and on current market conditions: “The show was larger than I had expected,” he said. “We had a great time and added some new contacts. And this week the market is steady with excellent movement.”
Colorado Front Range:
Ryan Fagerberg with Fagerberg Produce/Fagerberg Farms in Eaton told us that his operation is “done with harvest and have all our storage bins full.” Ryan said, “Size profile is heavy to mediums, but we still have a couple of lots that will produce jumbos. Demand has been very steady and I anticipate it will increase in a couple weeks due to Thanksgiving.”
Colorado Western Slope:
Bob Meek with Onions 52 in Syracuse, UT, told us his company’s Colorado deal is “going full force now.” Bob said, “Everything is under cover, and now we’re just running and packing. The intermediates have been really nice. It’s been a nice growing year for the Western Slope, with near perfect conditions.”
Bob Meek with Onions 52 in Syracuse said on Oct. 25 that the operation’s areas that are currently shipping are “well into the thick of things.” He said, “Everything is under cover, and harvest is finished.” As onions are being shipped out of Utah, Onions 52 is testing its new plant, although Bob said the existing packing shed is still running as well. “We’ve moved some equipment from the existing shed to the new facility,” he said. Bob noted that Utah, as well as Idaho-Eastern Oregon, has experienced significant labor shortages this season.
Steve Baker with Baker & Murakami Produce Co. in Ontario, OR, told us on Oct. 25 that demand “as of Wednesday morning is fair.” He said, “We are not as busy as the previous two weeks.” When asked if demand has been stronger for any one size over another, Steve said, “Depends on the day. Some days customers seem to be looking for medium yellows. Other days jumbo yellows are in greater demand.” He added the market “for the most part is steady,” noting, “We have a few competitors that seem to be priced below the mostly market.” Steve went on to comment, “Some of these companies either need some cash flow or are trying to buy their way back into the market after harvest.” He said Baker & Murakami has availability of “all sizes and color.”
Dwayne Fisher with Champion Produce Sales in Parma, ID, provided us a very comprehensive report this week. He said, “I am completely at a loss for words in regard to the market getting a little softer this week. Actually, I have a ton I would like to say as so much impassioned anger and frustration has swirled through my mind as I have read the USDA Market Report the past two days. Maybe Twitter is a better forum for those harsh words of frustration?” He continued, “On the political stage it appears some establishment folks don’t like it when they are called out and expected to perform, and maybe some in our industry will view my opinion of our marketing landscape similarly. So I will just speak for us. We are hoping and praying to get done with harvest this week. Let’s be honest, Mother Nature has kicked our butts since she started collapsing buildings last winter and hasn’t let up.” Dwayne added, “As many curve balls as have been thrown our way (wet spring – latest planting ever for us, record heat in July/September – drastic effect on sizing/yields coupled with the late start, and now weather delays for harvest – latest anticipated finish ever for us), we do believe that waiting the extra weeks to let our onions cure completely will give us the best chance for quality, long-term storage onions. The quality that is getting put into the bags is excellent, but to get that quality we are, without question, having to throw more onions into our process grade than we ever have had to this time of year. That being said our pack outs are less than normal to keep our quality to our customers’ expectations. Clearly, this limits an already limited supply. As far as inventory, I will just say we won’t even ever turn a belt in one facility because there is absolutely no reason to with the reduction of inventory that we have moving forward.” Dwayne went on, “On the fiscal side of things, next week permanent storage charges kick in for our farms/growers, and at current market conditions, this will mean our farms/growers will actually see LESS return for their onions! Unfathomable to think when we completely know what our supply is going forward. The guesswork is gone, the market should be trending up every week from here on out, and why it didn’t this week… better leave those words for Twitter! #Isowanttocuss.”
Paul Skeen with Skeen Farms and President of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association reported on the Idaho-Eastern Oregon storage harvest and shared his concern for the growers he represents. Paul said he is frustrated with this week’s dip in the market when he has first-hand knowledge of reduced volume and size with this year’s crop. “I am not on the sales desk, but I am boots-on-the-ground, and I have seen a large number of empty bins throughout the IEO Valley,” Paul said. “The empty bins are literally everywhere! I have talked to numerous growers whose yields are down. We plain and simple do not have a normal volume of onions this year.” He continued, “There are substantially less colossal and above sizes. And yet I look at the market slipping this week, and there is no reason for this. It’s infuriating! The fact is, with conditions the way they stand, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to determine the market should be increasing, but we are only as strong as the weakest link. And when buyers see prices dip, demand drops because the buyers are apprehensive and are unsure of what’s going to happen.” Paul said the industry needs to get a handle on the reality of the situation regarding this year’s crop. “We just don’t have the onions, so the growers are filling their contracts which means less open onions for the growers to sell,” he said. “It’s simple math, and it’s fact. The bottom line is I am truly concerned for my growers. In a year when onions aren’t plentiful, the market should follow suit. Still, growers here remain hopeful and anticipate higher prices on the horizon.”
Bob Meek with Onions 52 in Syracuse, UT, said the Nyssa, OR, portion of the operation is finished with harvest, and he said shipping was just getting underway as of Oct. 25. “We had some challenges during harvest between the rain and the labor shortage. Labor has been a difficult issue this year.”
Bernie Pavlock with ProSource Produce in Hailey, ID, concurred with the consensus it’s been a challenging year. “It’s a late season,” he said during the PMA Fresh Summit in New Orleans. “In Idaho we’re putting in a from-the-ground-up facility for Golden West after losing the existing structure during the snowstorms in January.” Onions are being run through a shed in Nyssa, OR, until the new facility is totally operational, he said. As of Oct. 20 harvest was at 85 percent, and Bernie said it was raining in the Treasure Valley. “But we think the onions will be fine. They’ve been through a lot this year. They got in the ground late, went through a hot summer, and it’s rained during harvest. And the onions look good. They’re smaller, but the quality looks good. We haven’t missed any orders, and someday we’re going to look back and see we had a lot of challenges in 2017 but made it through. And I think we have a very bright future. The new shed will be running at the end of the month, and capacity will be double the old facility with one-half the people.” Bernie added, “Labor has forced us to automate a lot.”
Bob Meek with Onions 52 in Syracuse, UT, said the Washington operation in Prosser was shipping strong on Oct. 25, with all the onions in and harvest completed “under fairly decent conditions.” Bob said there had been a “day or two of cold temperatures,” but movement was steady and quality good.
Trish Lovell with Curry & Co. in Brooks shared an update with us during PMA Fresh Summit on Oct. 21, telling us the onions out of brooks are good. “Demand is good, very high for reds in Mexico,” she said. She added that she’s been seeing some interest out of the Pacific Rim as well. Quality is good, and Trish said, “The onions have sized up smaller this year, and the price spread is big between mediums and jumbos.”
Matt Murphy with Paradigm Fresh in Fort Collins and Denver, CO, told us on Oct. 25, “We are currently sourcing the majority of our onions from the Pacific Northwest. However Colorado is beginning to hit its stride, and we will start utilizing the freight advantage out of here. We also are accessing product in Canada and New York for areas where the freight rates make the most sense.” Matt said that for the most part, “sheds have all of their onions under cover. The November stocks on hand report from the NOA will be very telling on future of the storage season. We are still finding an abundance of medium yellows with less than normal jumbos. Colossal yellows and super colossal yellows are even scarcer. Availability on large sizes is well below average including dramatically lower than last season.” He continued, “The market is slightly stronger this week than last but for the most part things are fairly steady. Prices are still well above average for the middle of October. We are hearing some isolated reports of lack of demand putting pressure on prices in the large terminal markets.” And about transportation, Matt said it is “extremely tough for the time of year.” He explained, “Our transportation department is reporting higher than average rates. Colorado is marginally better than the Northwest but still very difficult. We fully expect that to get worse in the coming weeks as we transition away from flatbeds and vented vans to refrigerated units only. Truck capacity will be further strained with the annual demand from holiday nursery shipments.”
Texas Rio Grande Valley:
Bob Meek with Onions 52 in Syracuse, UT, said the crop is being planted, and he said everything is going according to schedule for that area.
James Johnson with Carzalia Valley Produce in Columbus said on Oct. 25 that all overwinters are planted and are 90 percent emerged. “Everything looks fantastic,” James said. “We’re shooting for May 20 to start.” He said the 2017 season came on earlier than normal, adding, “Sometimes the crop deals something you’re not expecting.” Planting of the 2018 crop was later in most of his area, he said, due to unusually hot weather and high soil temps. That later planting could result in the crop coming in more in line with the May 20 date, he added. James said the 2017 season saw good yields and quality. “The market could have been better,” he said, and he went on to say, “But we planted onions again…”
Dale DeBerry with AllVeg Sales in Bourne, TX, said on Oct. 25 that his growers in the Tampico region of Mexico were finally able to get into the fields to plant during the last couple of weeks. “We’re getting the onions planted now and probably won’t ship until mid- to late March,” Dale said. Rain had kept the growers out of the fields, and Dale said, “We just got started 10 days ago, which is two to three weeks later than normal.” He said fewer acres are being planted, but he said the mix will remain 80 percent yellow, 10-15 percent red and 5-10 percent white.