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New Mexico is harvesting its non-storage onion crop

by Lora Abcarian | July 13, 2010
New Mexico onion producers are well into their 2010 harvest.

"The majority of the onions produced in New Mexico come out of Doña Ana, Luna and Sierra counties in southern New Mexico," said Noreen Jaramillo, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. "Of the acres harvested this year, all -- except for 300 acres -- were harvested in southern New Mexico."

The state's onions are non-storage, and the shipping season begins in May and extends into August. During peak harvest periods in June and July, New Mexico supplies as much as half of all dry onions consumed in the United States.

According to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the state is home to approximately 30 onion sheds. Popular commercialized onion varieties include the Grano, Granex, Sweet Spanish and NuMex mid-summer hybrid.

Many onion varieties have been introduced through the New Mexico Agriculture Experiment Station since 1980 and include NuMex-prefaced varieties such as BR1, Sunlite, Sundial, Suntop, Starlite, Dulce, Crispy, Vado, Luna, Bolo, Jose Fernandez, Centric and Casper. Four years ago, the NuMex Mirage was introduced.

The New Mexico Dry Onion Commission has funded research for the state's sweet onion program. Popular sweets include the NuMex Starlite, NuMex Sweet and Carzalia Sweet.

During 2009, the department determined that the value of onion production was $53.9 million. That year, 5,200 acres were planted to onions and 5,000 acres were harvested. In 2008, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture ranked the state's onions as the seventh-largest cash commodity. The total value of production for that year was $47.5 million.

Preliminary estimates supplied by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture this past April stated that an estimated 5,500 acres were planted to onions in 2010.

Fall-seeded onions are planted from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 for harvest from May 15 to June 20. Transplants are placed in the ground from Feb. 1 to March 1 and harvested from June 20 to July 10. Spring-seeded onions are planted from Jan. 15 to March 1 for harvest from July 5 to Aug. 15.

Although weather conditions were on the cool side earlier this year, production ramped up along normal timetables. By early June, 12 percent of the overall crop had been harvested. Ms. Jaramillo said that yellows comprise 75 percent of New Mexico's onion crop. Red volume is 15 percent, and white volume is 10 percent. "As of June 27, 2,438 semi-trailer loads were shipped out of Dona Ana, Luna and Sierra counties," she said.

Product is sold to retailers, foodservice outlets and processors in all major markets. "We have all sizes to fit all markets," Ms. Jaramillo said.

In addition to domestic markets, New Mexican producers export product. "Mexico and Canada are the biggest," she said of the export markets. Business with Canada has been brisk. "Our inspectors are working long days checking truckload after truckload of onions headed to the Canadian border," said Ms. Jaramillo.