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A snapshot of the 2011 New Mexico onion crop season is a mixed bag. On the downside, the crop will be short this season, with volume reduction directly attributed to cold weather earlier this year. A front moved into the state at the beginning of February and brought with it temperatures well below zero.

 

New Mexico
Frigid February temperatures will take a toll on the 2011 onion crop from New Mexico. Temperatures dipped below zero degrees, killing some onion stands. The harvest of the fall-seeded crop was also delayed as a result of the cold. (Photo courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture)
Looking at estimated volume, Noreen Jaramillo, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, characterized the situation this way: “Farmers are predicting their yields will be impacted 30 percent to 40 percent due to the freeze in February,” she told The Produce News June 8. “Early indications are that the drought has not really impacted growing conditions.”

 

Icebox conditions killed some onion stands. As a result, it is expected that acreage harvested will be down in 2011 when final numbers recapping the season are available.

The 2011 harvest began in early June for the fall-seeded crop, and bulb sizing is smaller due to cold weather. Spring-seeded and transplanted onions, harvested in mid-summer, continue to develop under favorable growing conditions.

Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association in Greeley, CO, provided the good news. “While the acreage is down in New Mexico compared to last season, the upside is that demand is creating good pricing,” he said of the positive marketing scenario he sees for the state’s producers.

During the peak summer harvest, the state is a major national onion supplier. According to Ms. Jaramillo, there are 30 onion sheds in the state, and they primarily handle non-storage onion varieties. “The major varieties of commercially grown New Mexico onions include Grano, Granex, Sweet Spanish and mid-summer hybrids such as the popular Nu-Mex variety,” she said.

Onions are marketed to the retail, foodservice and processing segments into September. In addition to domestic movement, product is sold to customers in Mexico and Canada. “Ninety-five percent of New Mexico’s onions [that] are exported to Canada come from the Hatch, New Mexico, area,” she added.

Ms. Jaramillo provided The Produce News with some historic data. She said that 5,500 acres were planted to onions in 2010, an increase of 300 acres when compared to 2009. During 2010, a total of 7,129 truckloads were moved, with each truck holding about 850 sacks of onions.

Onion production is an important component of the state’s economy. “Onion production in New Mexico is big business,” said Jeff White, New Mexico Department of Agriculture director-secretary. “Many people don’t realize it’s a significant contributor to the state’s agricultural industry.”

Data compiled for the 2009 crop year show that onions were New Mexico’s seventh-largest cash commodity with a total value of production of $54 million. “The [2010 New Mexico] onion crop had a total value of production estimated at $54.5 million, which is up from 2009,” Ms. Jaramillo noted.