ONTARIO, Ore. — Bulb onion growers in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon are enjoying much higher prices than this time last year, the result of a production year that was well below average.
The price for a 50-pound bag of jumbo yellow onions has hovered between $8.50 and $10 in recent weeks, compared to about $3.50 this time last year.
About 90 percent of the Spanish bulb onions grown in this region are yellows and most of those are jumbo size.
The onion market is extremely volatile but growers are riding a hot streak as far as prices go, said Cameron Skeen, an Oregon grower and chief operating officer for Baker & Murakami Produce Co., one of the largest onion shippers in the Idaho-Oregon growing region.
“Our market is historically higher than it’s been in awhile,” he said. “We’re having one of the best markets up to this point that we’ve had in a long, long time.”
Onion growers in this region typically produce more than 1 billion pounds of bulb onions a year but yields were off 25 to 30 percent this year due to a late start to planting and unfavorable weather, Skeen said.
The current market “is a darn good price for this time of year (and) it’s a result of lower yields,” said Grant Kitamura, general manager of Baker & Murakami Produce.
Malheur County Onion Growers Association President Paul Skeen said jumbo prices have fallen slightly from a high of about $10 per 50-pound bag to about $9-9.50 recently, but he anticipates they will increase again soon.
“I think there’s going to be a movement in the market, up,” he said. “How much up I don’t know. The onion market (has) come down a little bit but we’re anticipating that it will go back up”
Some of the 300 onion growers and 30 shippers in the area were significantly impacted by last year’s harsh winter, which resulted in about 60 onion storage sheds and packing facilities collapsing or sustaining major damage under the weight of snow and ice.
The event caused a lot of damage but the current uptick in prices is helping, Paul Skeen said.
“Onion prices are a lot better than they were last year,” he said. “We hope we can recoup some of the damage caused by Snowmageddon.”
The storage onions grown in this area are typically marketed through March and into April.
Cameron Skeen said that while it’s hard to predict what the onion market is going to do, he believes prices could increase some in January and should remain healthy through mid-March.
“It’s a manageable amount of inventory and I believe we’re going to continue to have a healthy market,” he said. “I’m bullish on the onion market.”