Video: Slideshow of onion photos from the summer and fall season
No doubt about it that some months of 2017 have read pretty much like the old fortune cookie saying, “May you live in interesting times.” But one onion industry veteran recently told us with great conviction, “Some day we’re going to look and see we had a lot of challenges in 2017 but made it through.”
Indeed we have made it through, with this Thanksgiving season a very bright spot in the year.
To put the season in perspective, here’s a brief overview of summer and fall market conditions from our “boots on the grounds” shippers across the country. And as calendar year 2017 fills our rearview mirror and demand for beautiful onions keeps us all very busy and happily so, let’s remember to give thanks that we’re part of this industry.
Back in early July we saw steady demand for all colors and sizes out of California’s San Joaquin Valley, with shipments expected to continue out of the area through August. The Walla Walla deal, which started in mid-June, was moving well, with good sizing and supplies to last into late August. New Mexico’s market was strengthening, with demand especially good for whites.
North Carolina was cleaning up in early July after a good run, and the Chihuahua deal was in its final few weeks with good demand and market conditions.
In mid-July the San Joaquin Valley was seeing a bit of a gap, although a crop had been made. And New York was citing a great market on jumbo and medium reds. Washington was reporting it had started its new crop direct seed yellows mid-month, with good pricing and quality reported. As the month came to a close, the Columbia Basin went from overwinters to transplants and then to direct seed, calling for major volume to hit in August.
Vidalia was cleaning up in late July going into August.
August kicked off in fine fashion, with harvest in the San Joaquin Valley looking to run until later in the month. Walla Walla reported good quality as that season entered its final month, and further north in Prosser the season was just getting started with good quality and a steady market for mostly yellows and some sweets. Northern Colorado started its season and was seeing brisk movement.
The second week of August was, in the two-word description used by several shippers, “Crazy busy!” Tri-Cities had been moving new crop reds and yellows in a strong market, and as other areas started shipping, prices softened somewhat. A separate Washington sweet program kicked off and was expected to run into the winter holidays. New Mexico was in its last couple of weeks, and shippers said it had been a good season with excellent quality. And sweets from Peru were coming into the pipeline.
New York reported gaps in the market and jumbo whites in strongest demand as the new crop white was just starting. And Colorado’s Front Range was seeing monsoon conditions, which one grower/shipper said was a “real challenge.” Idaho-Eastern Oregon was seeing some loads go out during mid-August, but the ramp-up would come later. Five Points in California was in its final two weeks and had seen a “tough season.” Bakersfield harvest was almost finished, and reports indicated yields were down although overall quality was good.
By the third week of August, reports were that the San Joaquin Valley was seeing good demand, especially for larger sizes. Prices had increased accordingly there, and some areas were cleaning up while others were just getting started. Supplies were tight. In the Columbia Basin the transition from summer onions to storage was starting, and the sizes were leaning to smaller with good quality and firm pricing reported.
More shippers in Idaho-Eastern Oregon were into the season, with demand “very good.” Most of the Treasure Valley had all sizes and colors available. Sizing varied from field to field, with some onions coming in smaller than normal and some sizing up well. Harvest weather was good as August started to wind down.
And then… Hurricane Harvey. The human toll and property destruction was catastrophic, and “neighbors” from across the nation were stepping up to help with rescue and relief. The industry saw loads not making it into Houston, and trucks were increasingly harder to find.
The last week of August saw New York finishing transplant harvest and moving into direct seeded harvest a bit later than normal due to cooler weather. Onion quality and demand were good, although pressure was coming from Canada. Michigan harvest had started, and quality and sizing were good. The market was “holding,” but it had come off a bit from the previous week. Colorado weather had improved, and the Front Range was seeing a good mix of jumbos and mediums.
Idaho-Eastern Oregon was seeing “crazy good” demand on all sizes. The market was solid, and demand was strong. Quality was reported as very good.
Early September kicked off Wisconsin’s harvest and limited shipments. The market was good and pricing higher than normal for the time of year. First loads were going out from Colorado’s Western Slope, and shippers said the crop looked great. “Crazy busy” was again the buzz in Idaho-Eastern Oregon, with all colors and sizing shipping but demand highest for yellow colossals and supers. Demand was exceeding supply, and the market was strong.
Nevada was well into harvest, and shippers were packing reds, yellows, whites, sweets and organics. Sizing was on the smaller size with early varieties. Demand for Washington onions was good, prices were reported to be rising and quality was reported to be excellent.
In mid-September Western Oregon was moving yellows, whites, reds and sweets, and demand was good for all varieties. Tri-Cities in Washington was seeing demand exceed supply on jumbo yellows, and in the Walla Walla area pricing and demand were both strong.
Hurricane Irma further disrupted truck availability, and the Southeast was seeing interruptions and rate impacts.
Idaho-Eastern Oregon continued to enjoy strong demand and a good market, with whites “really strong.” Jumbo reds and yellows were also strong, and supplies tight on larger onions. Northern Colorado was nearing the end of its harvest and would be shipping entirely out of storage soon. Movement had been steady and the market holding up well.
The third week of September saw onions being shipped out of Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Eastern and Western Oregon and Washington. Utah and parts of IEO were experiencing rain delays, but the market was holding. Colorado’s Western Slope was going full tilt, and many IEO shippers were busy meeting demand. Parts of Washington were in the early parts of their deal, with good quality and all colors and sizes available. Western Oregon had also gotten rain, but harvest had picked up again, and growers and shippers were working hard to harvest and ship simultaneously.
The last week of the month brought continued steady demand, and New York was reporting jumbo yellows to be the hot ticket. IEO demand was especially good for large yellows and for reds. And one shipper called it “a strange season” due to limited supplies. He said the market was strong and holding, and quality continued to be very good. Nevada was reporting yields to be off, and Washington was moving to finish harvest before more rain set in. Washington yields were also down some, and sizing was also smaller, but quality was reported as very good.
Early October brought news that Wisconsin was enjoying great harvest weather and almost finished. Demand was excellent, and the market was steady. Sizing was trending to larger mediums and jumbos. One shipper moving onions from multiple production areas said demand in early October was strongest for large yellows along with reds and whites. He noted weak demand for medium yellows, and the market had begun to reflect that.
A Northern Colorado shipper who got into the deal in late September said his white crop had sized to 80 percent jumbos and 20 percent mediums; yellows were coming in 60/40; reds 50/50; and he said the market was good, as was demand. Utah was encountering more rain delay, and in early October one shipper was at 50 percent in harvest. Quality was good, but the crop was not yielding, and sizing was trending smaller. Another Utah shipper said harvest weather had been good, and his crop had sized mostly to jumbos, colossals and supers. IEO was seeing very high demand, but national movement was off – which was good because IEO was experiencing a labor shortage. One shipper said he did not have enough labor to store at a heavy rate and pack full days. The market was been steady; trucks were tight.
About halfway through October we were hearing that Western Oregon was shipping out of storage. Demand was good, and pricing was steady. Transportation continued to be a serious concern. In the Columbia Basin harvest was wrapped up, and the crop came in with good sizing and quality. One shipper told us demand had dipped at the first of that week but had picked back up. The market was steady. Washington’s Tri-Cities reported yields as down slightly but sizing in the “normal” range. Trucks had loosened up slightly during the week.
IEO was working to wrap up harvest, and some shippers commented that the harvest period had been nerve-racking, with nighttime temps getting colder and colder. The consensus of lower yields continued, and the market remained steady.
The week of PMA Fresh Summit brought interesting reports from various areas. From IEO we heard harvest was ending, and some shippers were very encouraged by their individual quality, sizing and yields. Onion quality was described as very good, and shippers were anticipating increased demand after the PMA convention in New Orleans. Nevada was seeing better sizing and yields in its later varieties, and pricing was strong for reds and whites. Yellow pricing was also at a higher level than normally seen during harvest. One shipper noted demand and prices for yellows softening a bit, but it was expected that would level off and “inch upward” as the season progresses.
One Utah and Colorado shipper said his deals were doing very well, and he cited a better situation with trucks in Utah. Another Colorado shipper said his growers had told him this is the largest volume put into storage in more than a decade. Both shippers said quality and sizing out of Colorado’s Western Slope is very good this year.
In late October shippers looked forward to Thanksgiving demand, and most were telling us the market was steady. Some IEO folks were frustrated with what they said was a softening of the market, and we heard from Western Oregon that the price spread between mediums and jumbos continued to be significant.
But the first weeks of November brought renewed optimism, and as Thanksgiving demand has increased, we heard from New York that the market was good, onions excellent and pricing, especially for jumbos, was “great.” Northern Colorado reported much the same, and some IEO shippers were saying that though some pricing had slipped, they were happy with the harvest market.
One Washington shipper said, “We could get an extra week out of the holiday deal with an early Thanksgiving pull that will carry us through Christmas.”
And the optimism continued to build as Thanksgiving demand increased. With tighter supplies, prices were strengthening, and though trucks were a problem, most of our contacts were sharing stories of good movement, good business. One Utah shipper told us business was good and “the holiday rush has hit.”
Another major player in the Idaho/Washington deals said that not only has demand been “real solid for everything across the board,” but also, “… this is the real first Thanksgiving pull I have seen in a few years.”
By last week, there was just no denying Thanksgiving was a big, big event. One Colorado guy said on Wednesday, Nov. 15, that he was sold out for the week. “It’s been phenomenal demand,” he said.
His assessment was echoed throughout the industry, with some cautionary reports about transportation. From Nevada we got a report of strong market, with “good undertones for higher pricing.” But transportation was a sticking point. Idaho-Eastern Oregon cited good demand on all sizes, with medium yellows and whites “in greater demand than in previous weeks.” Prices on those mediums had also risen slightly as the result from increased demand from Mexico.
Oregon shippers were also noting good demand “with continued Thanksgiving pull.” And one Northwest shipper said favorable market opportunities could well extend through the winter, with the upshot being that “this should be a very good year for Northwest onions.”
It’s not rocket science to say that supply and demand continue to drive the bus, but we also know that conditions can and do turn on a dime.
As the season progresses and we move into the Christmas season, OnionBusiness will bring you the latest reports from production areas coast to coast.
In the meantime, we hope your Thanksgiving is filled with family, friends, turkey and of course onions. We’re truly very thankful for the privilege of living in this great nation and being a part of this great industry.