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Onions looking great then came hail

It's one of those unfortunate incidents that farmers can't prevent but have to make the best of: an April hailstorm in the middle of the onion harvest in the Rio Grande Valley when market prices were better than they'd been in more than 20 years.

Cliff Chambers, production manager of Duda Texas, who, in early April thought farmers were finally going to be making some money this year, had to rethink things.

The day after the storm, Chambers didn't know the exact amount of damage that Duda had suffered. “I know about a hundred of our acres were hammered. And the onions were just shredded.”

Duda grows over 1,000 acres of sweet onions in Texas, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley, including the Spring Sweet, 1015 Super Sweets, as well as some white and red onions. Duda is also experimenting on 50 acres with the new Texas Legend onion, purported to be sweeter than the popular 1015.

Before the storm hit, Chambers had great hopes that farmers this year could pay off their loans. Te colossal size onions command as much as $30 for a 50 pound bag and jumbos going for $20.

“It's one of those 20-year markets for sweet onions.”

He and all the onion producers, were going to take advantage of it.

Last year only the gleaners made out. In 2002 many farmers opted not to harvest their onions because they couldn't afford to, with market prices as low as $6 for a 50 pound bag. This year bags of seconds have been demanding more than last year's onions of the highest quality.

Before the damaging storm, rains had been beneficial and onion yields had been good. After the storm, however, many onions were in the field drying out, waiting to be picked up. The timing couldn't have been worse.

The storm seemed to follow the Rio Grande. There were reports that some areas received hail the size of baseballs. Rain and heavy wind, estimated at up to 60 miles per hour, pounded the Valley, seriously damaging the crops in that area, including cotton, grain sorghum and citrus.

Melons took a serious hit since they were not close to harvest and still vulnerable on the vines which also were damaged.

But onions were the main crop to take it on the chin. It is estimated that ten percent or up to 1,000 acres of onions may have suffered from the untimely storm. Just when the onion farmers thought they might make a buck!

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