California holds its own as a major onion player
by Brian Gaylord | April 04, 2010
California has spring, summer and storage onions. Taken all together, the
state has the third-largest onion acreage in the nation, behind only the
Idaho/eastern Oregon area and the Columbia Basin in the Pacific Northwest.
Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association,
told The Produce News that dehydrated onions are not included in these
acreage totals. If they were, California would rank No. 1 in onion production,
Idaho/eastern Oregon is a storage deal with no spring or summer deals. The
Columbia Basin has summer and storage deals but no spring deal.
California's spring deal is planted in the fall, the summer deal is planted in
winter and early spring, and the storage onions are planted in the spring and
harvested in the fall.
California's spring onion deal takes place mostly in the Imperial and
The Santa Maria and Oxnard areas "weigh in" on California's spring onion
deal, Mr. Mininger said.
More than 90 percent of the state's summer deal takes place in the San
Joaquin Valley, with contributions primarily from the Santa Clara, Santa Maria
and Salinas valleys.
The large supplies generated from the San Joaquin Valley typically account for
somewhere around 50 percent of the nation's fresh supply. The Central
California summer onion deal is focused on fresh onions; other areas of the
country have stronger storage supplies.
Onions are grown in more than 20 states, literally border to border and coast
California's late summer-fall storage onion crop is grown in the Antelope
Valley and in the Salinas Valley.
The California spring onion season starts around mid-April with onions out
of the Imperial Valley in the state's southern desert region. That deal typically
runs about six weeks, leading into the San Joaquin Valley onion harvest,
which starts around late May or early June. The San Joaquin onion harvest
begins around Bakersfield at the southern end of the valley and moves
northward to the west side of the central San Joaquin Valley. The harvest
generally continues into late August or early September in the San Joaquin
In California's spring 2009 onion deal, the state had 6,200 acres of onions
with 5.2 million fiftyweight bags harvested. This compares with the state's
6,700 acres and nearly 5.7 million fiftyweight bags harvested in 2008,
according to Mr. Mininger. The decline is evidenced further when compared
with the state's 2007 spring onion deal, which had 6,900 acres with 6 million
fiftyweight bags harvested.
In California's summer non-storage 2009 onion deal, the state had 6,500
acres of onions with 7.3 million fiftyweight bags harvested, a significant drop
from 2008, when there were 7,800 acres with 8.2 million fiftyweight bags
harvested. In 2007, the state had 8,000 acres of onions with 8.8 million
fiftyweight bags harvested.
California's decline in summer non-storage onion production can be
somewhat attributed to a lack of available water. In the San Joaquin Valley, it
can be difficult for growers to "find land with enough water," Mr. Mininger
While overall production numbers are down, growers -- especially in the San
Joaquin Valley -- are getting better yields. The San Joaquin Valley is the
state's most sophisticated area for growing onions. As varieties have evolved,
Central California onion growers are in the thick of the latest work in plant
nutrient technology, irrigation technology and protecting the crop from
weeds and pests.
California's production in recent years has risen in its late summer/fall
storage onions. In 2009, the state had 4,350 acres of onions with 4.9 million
fiftyweight bags harvested compared with 4,100 acres with 4.7 million
fiftyweight bags harvested in 2008 and 4,370 acres with 4.6 million
fiftyweight bags harvested in 2007.
Mr. Mininger said that the long-term national trend for onion demand is
positive. "The onion industry is growing larger incrementally," he said. Trends
in both per capita consumption and population growth favor onions. As a
group, Latinos are significant consumers of onions, he said.
Brenda Haught, sales and commodities manager for Porterville, CA-based
Homegrown Organic Farms, said that Homegrown doesn't foresee a shortage
of water for its onions and that its onion acreage in the southern San Joaquin
Valley benefits from access to federal water, state water and well water. Homegrown Organic Farms grows its onions in the Lamont, CA, area in the
southern San Joaquin Valley.
Ms. Haught told The Produce News March 23 that Homegrown had just
planted its summer onion crop but was expecting a cold spell the week of
March 29. The harvest window for the company's summer fresh onion crop
runs from June through August. Homegrown's onions planted in April will be
harvested in August and September for storage. The company will store
onions until November or December.
"The bigger part of our [onion] program is storage," Ms. Haught said.
Homegrown markets only organic items and has been handling organic
onions for more than a decade. For onion labels, the company uses "Frank
Lee Organics" and "Homegrown Organic Farms." The "Homegrown Organic
Farms" label for onions was developed last year. There's no quality distinction
between the two labels, Ms. Haught said.
Homegrown is a full-line seasonal shipper of organic items throughout the
United States as well as to Canada, Mexico, the Pacific Rim and Europe. The
company is perhaps best known for its tree fruit as well as a variety of citrus
crops and blueberries.
Homegrown is in an enviable position compared with some of its competitors
in organic onions: Canada has banned produce that is grown using sodium
nitrate from coming into the country. Homegrown doesn't use sodium nitrate,
Ms. Haught said. As a result, the company is "seeing increased demand" from
Canada for its onions, she said.
Ms. Haught said that 50 percent of the company's onion crop consists of
medium-sized onions, 30 percent are jumbo onions and 20 percent are small
onions. The small onions go to foodservice, she said.
Homegrown's three-pound medium onion bag is best for retailers, she
added. The company also offers 50-pound bulk jumbo yellow onions for bulk
displays at retail.
Five Points, CA-based Telesis Onion Co. has a summer non-storage fresh
onion deal -- it does not have a spring harvest. The company grows red,
white and yellow onions.
Telesis' onion harvest runs from June through around mid-September for all
three varieties. Telesis grows its product in the Five Points area of California,
about 20 minutes north of Huron.
The company's overall onion acreage is up about 10 percent, according to
Telesis Sales Manager Mike Smythe.
The company works mostly with foodservice but handles some retail and
wholesale accounts as well; and it ships nationally. Telesis sells most of its
Several years ago the company introduced the "Telesis Gold" label for its
premium yellow onions. The company also has "Telesis," "Gold Creek," "Silver
Creek," "Big Telesis" and "Panoche Creek" labels.
New this year for Telesis will be an automated bagging and palletizer made
by Byron Nelson Automation, to be installed in Telesis' packingshed in April.
The machine will incorporate Telesis' box machine. The bagging and
palletizer system requires less labor and gives a better presentation on a
pallet and a better pack of onions, Mr. Smythe said.