NYSSA, Ore. — The onion crop in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon will be significantly smaller this year but growers are seeing prices that are much higher than normal.
“Yields are definitely down and size is off a little bit but prices are significantly better,” said Bruce Corn, one of the 300 farmers in the area who grow the Spanish bulb onions this region is famous for.
Most growers and shippers Capital Press spoke with said yields will be off 20-30 percent this year. Size profile is also off and fewer colossals and super-colossals, the largest bulb onion sizes, will come out of the region this year.
But prices are way up.
For example, a 50-pound bag of jumbo yellow onions is selling for $10-11 right now, up from $5.50 to $6 this time last year.
“As you drive around, there are a lot of empty bins,” said Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association. “The bottom line is prices are up because there is a shortage.”
Buyers from Mexico are purchasing a lot of onions right now and that’s also impacting the market, said Snake River Produce Manager Kay Riley.
“The market is about as good as we’ve seen it for this time of year,” said Riley, the marketing order chairman for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.
Corn said the higher prices mean grower returns will be much better this year, despite the smaller crop.
“Last year, we had incredible yields but low prices. There was no return after you paid packing charges and storage,” he said. “This year is significantly better that way.”
Although this year’s crop is much smaller than normal, quality is excellent, said Murakami Produce Manager Grant Kitamura.
“They are coming in in really good shape,” he said. “They are beautiful.”
Kitamura said it’s likely the higher prices will hold throughout the year, which typically happens during a year with limited supply.
“You could see higher prices later; I don’t know for sure,” he said. “But I can’t see them going down. Overall, we’re hoping for a lot better year than we had last year.”
This year’s onion crop was impacted by late planting due to a harsh winter and wet spring that was followed by a hotter than normal summer, and then September rains crusted the ground and made harvest more difficult, said Stuart Reitz, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Ontario.
“There were a whole lot of issues,” he said. “There just wasn’t ideal growing conditions this year. (Last year) was a tremendous crop. This year, it’s a little thinner, and a lot thinner in some cases.”