The U.S. onion industry and two senators say they are concerned about Canadian onions flooding East Coast markets at artificially low prices.
“It’s important for everybody all across the country,” National Onion Association Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Greg Yielding said. “Canadian onions, if they are coming in lower than the cost of production and what we can sell them for — and if any subsidies are involved — come into a terminal market on the East Coast and affect pricing for the whole country.”
U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both D-N.Y., noted “unfair and discriminatory pricing practices by Canadian onion exporters” in a Feb. 6 letter to U.S. International Trade Commission Chairman David Johanson.
The senators wrote that the Onion Association has raised concerns that over the past decade Canadian onions have flooded the U.S. market at prices with which U.S. producers cannot compete, particularly on a cost-of-production basis.
“Onion growers across the U.S., particularly in New York state, claim they are offered prices for their onions today that are highly uncompetitive and comparable to prices received more than 30 years ago,” Gillibrand and Schumer wrote.
In Orange County, N.Y., home of the productive “Black Dirt” onion region, growers are getting $7 for a 50-pound bag of medium yellow onions, compared to $5.25 to $5.75 in 1984, according to USDA. That would equate to $13 to $14 today after inflation, the senators wrote. U.S. production costs have increased “dramatically” over that time.
“It affects price in the entire market, and makes it financially unreasonable to sell into New York,” said Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee Chairman Kay Riley, general manager and part owner of Snake River Produce in Nyssa, Ore.
He was among several industry representatives from the region, which supplies about 40% of U.S. demand from mid-August to early April, to join other Onion Association members on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with national policymakers.
Riley said that with 65% to 70% of the U.S. population on the East Coast it’s an important market for all onion-growing regions.
“We traditionally sell our larger onions to their markets,” he said of the Idaho-Oregon growing region. Canada generally produces smaller or medium sizes, “and we also have medium and small onions. That is now no longer a market.”
Gillibrand and Schumer requested that the Trade Commission review any potential anti-competitive pricing practices including selling at prices below the U.S. cost of production, and that it compare relevant U.S. and Canada tariffs and non-tariff trade regulations; review subsidy programs that support cost reduction or crop-price guarantees; and work with other U.S. government agencies in enforcing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and other international trade agreements.
The Onion Association’s Yielding also said Canadian onions also “seem to be coming in without any kind of inspection,” which means their quantity and grade are unknown.
“If they are not meeting U.S. No. 1 grade, then you could have non-U.S. No. 1 onions setting a low price,” he said. “That is what some of the guys on the East Coast say is happening.”