Featured image: Minkus Family Farm harvest, courtesy of Dylan Dembeck with Minkus Family Farms
Lots going on in the U.S. onion industry this week, with reports from across the country updating us not only on market conditions but also on harvest progress and the quality shipped out of various regions.
One recurring message OnionBusiness.com heard on the show floor at PMA from several shippers is that despite a difficult harvest at the end, Idaho-E. Oregon is in very good shape on quality onions – and it is far too early to speculate on what is going to happen in late spring for availability. We were told current and anticipated regular-season supplies are adequate for customer needs, and the quality going into the bag has been excellent with no issues being reported.
Also from Northwest we’re hearing the crop has come in mostly good with a few troubled spots. Some shippers reported a below average size profile on summer varieties, but the long-day storage onions have average to above average sizing. Yellows out of the Columbia River Basin growing area, we’ve been told, are mostly average size, and much of the crop was harvested before frost hit – although some operations did get hit by both rain and frost. Most shippers are telling us it’s too early to predict how the market will react to the weather issues in the Northwest, and the consensus is that the yellow market is expected to firm up. Demand on whites and reds seems to vary from region to region and shed to shed.
As one shipper told us, Mother Nature has the wheel. And, he said, “We all take turns.” The key, he said, is to be smart about management of the crop and doing “what’s best with any issue that exists.”
Rick Minkus with Minkus Family Farms in New Hampton NY, said on Oct. 23 that Minkus finished harvest a couple of weeks ago and everything looks good – and he added, “We had perfect harvest weather this year. I have photos from this time last year, and we were boot deep in mud. There are three growing areas in New York and the two north of us are still harvesting and dealing with some weather. I guess everyone gets their turn in the barrel, but luckily we’re all in.” He noted that “quality is good, and we have nice size profile.” Rick said demand is steady across the board for all sizes and colors. “The market is steady too, but we do get pressure from Canada which doesn’t help. It seems Quebec is always after us. Overall, things are shaping up for a good season here.” Watch the fun Minkus Family Farms harvest video:
John Harris with Paradigm Fresh in Fort Morgan reported in after returning from PMA Fresh Summit in Anaheim. On Monday, Oct. 21, John wrote, “Welcome back to the office for everyone that was attending the PMA. Our team had a good show. I was there for a very short time, but the rest of my team did their best to say hello to as many of you as they could.” He also said he sees a shift in the market, noting, “I feel like we are finally to the last week of one of the slowest months in my memory. It’s a week of twos, so I am not really sure if this is the week to expect things to necessarily turn around. I do think by next week however that we’ll see weekly volumes start to come up.” John continued, “Harvest in all areas that are not complete will finish up this week. That should help the market level out and stabilize. It’s not that it’s unstable, but there have been harvest deals from shed to shed for the past six weeks, and it’s been hard to actually determine exactly what to pay on occasion.” In Northern Colorado, he said, “We have decent supplies of a bit of everything.”
Our friend Bob Sakata at Sakata Farms in Brighton said on Oct. 22 that all the farm’s onions are in storage. “Rob got them all in before the storm hit,” Bob said. The shed will start shipping next week, and Bob said the yellows, whites and reds will go primarily to a local/regional market.
Western Colorado/Corinne, UT:
Don Ed Holmes with The Onion House in Weslaco, TX, said on Oct. 22 the Western Slope of Colorado has onions running now. “It’s yellows to start with, and we’ll have whites the end of this week,” Don Ed said. “Reds will start next week.” Utah will start running its 2019 onions late next week, he said. “Colorado and Utah are both down. Utah is down by 25 percent, and Colorado even more” as the result of late planting and bad weather during harvest, but Don Ed said everything is in at this point. About the market, he said, “It’s still a bit doggy, but by the time the Thanksgiving pull hits, it should pick up.” Quality is good out of both areas, and Don Ed said on Oct. 22 Colorado was running 60-40 jumbos to mediums.
Herb Haun with Haun Packing in Weiser, ID, said on Oct. 22 growers needed another couple of days to finish harvest – but he added, “It’s raining, and there’s cold in the forecast.” He noted that demand has been “pretty good, and we’re starting to get more into our contract stuff too.” Herb said demand was good across the board, adding that whites had picked up. “The bigger stuff us seeing good demand. Medium reds are a little slower this week.” Like others in the industry, Herb is looking forward to the Thanksgiving pull, saying he expects movement to increase later this month as the country gears up for the late November holiday. He said fall traditionally brings about better demand as people start eating more slow-cooker meals that call for onions.
Dan Phillips with Central Produce in Payette, ID, reported that Central’s growers are within a day or two of finishing. “We’re were well below the percentage of onions left in the field that was reported by some last week,” Dan said. “We should finish in the next couple of days. We really only have a couple of lots we will put aside and see what happens over the next several weeks, but we are in good shape. And for this time of year, it really isn’t good for people to be speculating on where supplies land. It’s just too early to tell. By Mother Nature’s rules, yes, we have had a rough harvest, but calendar-wise, harvest is on track. Last year, all the onions were near perfect, so it was blow-and-go on packing. So this year, we have to put a little more labor in on the pack-outs, but that’s why you have packing houses, to get quality in the bag and that’s what we’re doing.” Dan continued, “On the market, sure we always want more, and yes, there are always those two or three customers that come in asking for ridiculous prices, but overall all, we can’t complain. The market has been super, super steady for all colors and sizes.”
Jason Vee with Vee’s Marketing in Superior, WI, weighed in with his take on current conditions, saying, “By now, everyone has shaken off their PMA hangovers, and we are all back to work. Harvest is finished. Quality is very good.” He added that he’s heard Idaho-E. Oregon has lost a significant amount of volume to freeze, and he said, “Knee-jerk intuition says supply goes down and price goes up. But I don’t think that’s how this plays out. Markets are on the low side of normal and relatively stable. Scarcity drives markets, and even with this freeze, there just isn’t enough scarcity to make any difference. There are onions everywhere.” Jason said, “It’s more likely that those shippers will finish a few weeks earlier than normal this spring than any upward market movement in our immediate future.” With his trademark candor, Jason concluded, “Boo hiss! I know. Broker isn’t on the bandwagon of scaring markets up. That’s the bad news. The good news is October is historically slow, but it’s also almost over. November is a better month. Thanksgiving ads are going out. And we aren’t fighting bad quality. I’ll take a stable market on the low side of normal over a declining one.”