Our friend Stu Follen with SL Follen Company in Portland, OR, shared his perspective on foreign markets and exports for onions with us this week, and to sum it up, Stu said it could well be a “boring” year for exports with a few bright spots, mainly in Central America.
“We aren’t going to see any dramatic changes in exports this year,” he said. “Exports should be off some, but there are some bright spots.”
He explained, “There is some very good business going south, particularly to Panama, Costa Rica and surrounding areas. Buyers there are looking for smaller onions, and it’s a huge headache trying to deal with the hoops. But the business has been good and fairly steady.”
Still, he said, the big picture is that onion exports “have been on a steady decline since the big export boom in the early 2000s.”
He went on to say he doesn’t think Asian markets will see any huge increase this winter and early 2020 season, despite anticipation surrounding the new Japan trade deal. “We used to have a pretty steady flow of onions going into Taiwan, but this year Korea has been supplying Taiwan and will continue to do so until late December when the Taiwanese onions come on,” Stu said.
And he said China is taking care of Japanese imports for the most part. “There are a few U.S. loads going to Japan, but when the Chinese can sell peeled onions at good prices and three days on freight for the order, it makes it tough to compete. Plus, the Chinese are growing more reds than in the past, using major seed companies for their seed source and producing fairly decent quality. It’s also important to remember that Japan has a declining population yet still grows the same number of onions. It makes things pretty tough going into Japan for a lot of reasons.”
Stu said there are U.S. onions going into some other Asian markets, however. “We do have business in Hong Kong because they won’t buy Chinese onions. But that’s a pretty small market, about eight loads a week. There are also some short runs of business going to the South Pacific, but it’s basically gap-filling business.”
Another factor that sets the tone for a lackluster export season, he said, is the fact that unlike last year, Europe has plenty of onions. “Asian exporters did a lot of business in Europe last year. This year Europe has plenty of onions so Asian exporters are going to have to find a home for these onions.”
He reiterated that despite factors that indicate Asian exports may be off, there are still onions going into those markets – but the bright spot, he said, is in Central America.