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Texas onion acreage leaps; plenty of melons, mangos and other tropicals coming

by Chip Carter | April 13, 2011

Bad weather in Texas and Mexico over the winter caused problems for some crops, but onions, melons and most tropicals survived the atypical freezes that plunged deep into Mexico in February.


Texas onionsOnions are Texas' leading vegetable crop. Acreage is up across growing areas in the southern part of the state by as much as 20 percent this season. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Produce Association)
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, From April 1-6, prices for watermelons coming across the Mexican border ranged from 24 to 28 cents per pound for seeded and 22 to 30 cents per pound for seedless. Pineapples were trading at $6.50 to $8.50 for sizes 5 through 8 in single-layer cartons. Ataulfo mangos were going for $4 to $8 for single-layer flats of sizes 12 through 24. Tommy Atkins were bringing $3 to $4 for sizes 6 through 14. Hadens were getting $3 to $4 for sizes 8 through 14. Jumbo and medium onions were going for $8 to $10 for a 40-pound carton, $4.50 to $6 for 50-pound sacks and $3.50 to $5 for 25-pound sacks.


“We’re not seeing any damage at all from the weather,” said Don Ed Holmes of The Onion House, based in Weslaco, TX. “We wouldn’t have greeted some small adversity negatively — we were almost hoping to lose a little of this crop to take a little of the volume off, but it doesn’t look like at this point the freeze did anything. It did, however, set us back about two weeks. I think this would have been one of the few years when Texas would have had onions in February. The quality is phenomenal and the yields are going to be phenomenal.”

Historically, onions are the leading vegetable crop in Texas, and “we continue to rank in onion production right near the top of the states,” said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association. “And we import a helluva a lot from Mexico. Almost all of those imports are grown with American dollars to American specifications with the intent of shipping to the United States. Those onions happen to be grown on the other side of the river, but they’re still Texas onions.”

Texas onion acreage overall took a leap in 2011, with estimates ranging from a 10-20 percent increase as growers chase last year’s market, which brought prices in the $30 to $40 range.

Last year, Texas farmers planted 11,313 acres of red, white and yellow onions in the Lone Star State — 8,782 in the Lower Valley and Coastal Bend area, and 2,581 in the Laredo and Winter Garden area. This year, that total is up to 13,064 — 10,237 in the Lower Valley and 2,827 in Winter Garden.

The majority (10,037) of all Texas onion acreage is devoted to the sweet yellow variety. The totals do not include acreage from U.S.-owned farms across the border in northern Mexico or partner organizations in that country that ship most of their product through Texas, the volume which is often accounted for in Texas onion production totals.

“We’re sitting here with about 500 acres more or less, which is up about 100 acres, so it sounds like we’re about where the whole deal is,” said Curtis DeBerry of Progreso Produce Ltd. in Boerne, TX. “And the yields will be even higher, so it will be a bigger crop.”

Said Mr. Holmes, “We’re up about 10 percent in acreage. Any time you have a $30 or $40 market like you had last year, growers want to try it again, and it’s hard to tell them no. The movement so far has been fantastic and that’s one of the reasons we’ve had a good market [to date] and hopefully we can maintain that.”

Aside from onions, Texas cantaloupes and melons “made excellent progress” during the first week of April, according to the University of Texas Agrilife Extension. About 75 percent of the Texas melon crop is cantaloupe, and harvest was expected to begin the second or third week of April, with production ramping up in May and continuing through July.

Texas typically ranks in the top five states in watermelon and cantaloupe production, and is third in honeydew melon, producing about 20 percent of U.S.-grown melons. The total melon crop represents a value of about $70 million.

Tropicals have enjoyed a decent market lately after a slow start.

The Mexican mango deal started slowly, with bad weather there hampering the Ataulfo crop early on. But the red fruit Haden and Tommy Atkins varieties are now coming on and seem to be promising.

The first bloom of this year’s Mexican crop brought significant volume. But the fruit was affected by bad weather that created cosmetic concerns, and production came on too early for the U.S. market.

The second bloom presented an even larger crop, but with better growing conditions quality is greatly improved. According to the USDA, mangos showed up in 5 percent of all U.S. retailer advertising the first week of April.

“There does seem to be a fairly large crop out of Mexico,” said Wade Shiba of GM Produce Sales LLC in Hidalgo, TX. “Even though they pumped the Ataulfos early, what they held back were the round mangos, the red fruit varieties. They’ve had heavy production and light demand, so they’re going to come with quite a bit of volume. We’re hoping consumers and the market here in the U.S. will be ready for a large spring crop. There will be some pent-up demand, people will be more in the mood and have an appetite for them, and that should help move the crop at a reasonable price.”

Pineapples will peak in mid-April and Mexican production has been very good.

The bad winter weather “did not affect pineapple production at all,” said Mike Geisler of Frontera Produce Ltd. in Edinburg, TX, who heads up sales for that company’s pineapple program. “We have a good supply of product coming in, with the peak right before Easter, which is historically when the market picks up. Everything’s coming out of Veracruz. Basically the weather’s been real cooperative down there and there’s plenty of fruit coming up this year.”

And while the weather was rough on some Mexican crops, pineapple may have benefited from a bit of a cool snap.

“Brix levels have been excellent, running 12-15 percent, which is sweet — literally,” Mr. Geisler said.


(For more on Texas onions, melons and tropicals, see the April 18, 2011, issue of The Produce News.)