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Acreage holds steady, quality looks good for Central California onion crop

The harvest of fresh market and storage onions in California’s San Joaquin Valley got underway in early June and was expected to continue into September. Acreage industry-wide is believed to be similar to last year, and growers say they are expecting good quality due to favorable growing weather, although some smaller-than-normal sizing is manifesting itself in the early crop.

Total fresh market and storage onion acreage in the state is probably just under 24,000 acres, said Robert C. (Bob) Ehn, chief executive officer and technical manager for the California Garlic & Onion Research Advisory Board. The acreage, he noted, is an approximation, as the board represents only processed onions and there is not an organization for the fresh and storage onions that tracks industry statistics. But 03-CentralCalOnions-CropA bag of yellow onions on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market.processing acreage is 24,000 acres, and “we are about 52 percent” of the onion industry in the state.

Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California are the state’s main onion-producing counties, he said. “Weather is ideal” on the west side of the valley “because it doesn’t rain much, so quality stays quite high.”

Country Sweet Produce in Bakersfield, CA, started running onions June 5. “We have a good size crop on the yellows,” said Duke Dodder, commodity sales manager. “Reds on the front end are small. I know the size will improve” as the season goes along, “but the first stuff we harvested is on the small side.” However, “I think we have a little better size than the average grower,” he said.

Country Sweet grows both conventional and organic onions. The organic harvest had not yet started, Mr. Dodder said, but for Country sweet the organics will run longer than the conventional, continuing into mid-August out of the southern San Joaquin Valley.

“Acreage, from what I hear, is about the same” this year, said Mike Smythe, a salesman at Telesis Onion Co. Inc. in Five Points, CA. However, on average, “the early onions are smaller in size.”

Weather has been good “throughout the growing area,” which will contribute to good quality, he said. But “the economy is a little soft,” so “we are going to have to work to move these onions. I think it is going to be a challenging year.” He expects just average prices for this year because the economy is still down a little bit.

“We are looking for an excellent quality crop this year with good sizing,” said Gurdeep Billan, director of sales for Double D Farms in Coalinga, CA, June 6. “We will have a balanced program with mediums and jumbos and colossals. Overall, no major weather conditions have affected our ranches or our neighbors’ ranches, so it is looking very nice out there.”

Crop set is normal, Mr. Billan said. Timing is also normal, he added, noting that the harvest was expected to start the weekend of June 9-10 with shipping beginning the week of June 11. ”Our season will extend to right about Labor Day and may go into mid-September” for both organic and conventional onions.

Industry-wide, Mr. Billan said he thinks that acreage is about the same as last year. “I don’t have details as to what is planted, but I know there are going to be exceptional supplies out of the entire valley for this upcoming season. I think that the key will be for customers to go out and promote California onions this summer. There will definitely be promotional opportunities throughout the entire season.”