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South Texas onion prices soar

Market prices for spring onions hit an all-time high in the Lower Rio Grande Valley's recently wrapped-up harvest season, according to an expert with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

"Some growers have huge smiles on their faces, but others missed out on the good prices due to rain," said Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco.

"I've never seen prices this high," said Anciso, a 20-year veteran of the South Texas vegetable industry.

Growers last year averaged $8 per 50-pound bag of yellow onions, about break-even prices, he said.

But this year, the law of supply and demand kicked in and prices shot up, Anciso said. Growers fetched $30 to $40 per 50-pound bags of yellow onions and $50 to $60 for white onions. Red onions, marketed wholesale in 25-pound bags, earned growers $25 to $35 per bag.

"Prices were high for two reasons," he said. "Storage onions left over from last year's harvest ran out two months earlier than usual this year, in February instead of April. Then Mexico got hit hard with rain during their growing season, so imports were down. That put an upward pressure on the market."

Unfortunately, not all Valley growers were able to cash in, he said.

"Market prices have been high since February, and they never let up much," he said. "But rains caused problems here too. Some fields lost 80 percent of their crop to decay from the rain and some fields were just abandoned."

The high prices were passed on to consumers, Anciso said, as onion prices at supermarkets hit $3 per pound.

He estimates some 50 growers in the four-county Lower Rio Grande Valley planted about 8,700 acres of onions this year, an increase of 500 acres over last year's acreage.

While the rains helped keep insect pressures and insecticide costs low, they promoted fungus growth, an expensive foe for farmers.

"It was bad," Anciso said. "While they normally spend $300 to $400 per acre for fungicides, this year they spent an average of $1,000 per acre."

The Valley’s onion harvest grosses an average of $150 million in farm gate receipts but should be higher this year despite some crop losses, he said.

While some are sold locally, most South Texas onions are shipped north.

“Our onions have an established reputation of being mild and are very much in demand," Anciso said. "They are sold all over the country, but most go straight up a corridor through Dallas, into the Midwest and even into New York and Canada."

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