Idaho-E. Oregon onions full-steam for 2023-24 season
Each new season in the Treasure Valley brings its own rush of excitement as the onion industry readies for harvest to begin. That excitement is very often spiked with a jolt of adrenaline as crews work to get the onions in the barn and Mother Nature throws in a shenanigan or two.
And then, with storage onions in, the pace picks up even more. Loads increase, and coordination is tight among sales teams, shed crews and transportation coordinators.
The constant is that nothing is ever constant — and 2023-24 is no exception to that rule.
Idaho-E. Oregon Promotion Committee Chair Marc Bybee looked back at 2022-23, saying the perspective of last year varies from shipper to shipper. Bybee also took a very educated guess at the new year from his third-generation onion shipper family vantage point.
“I’m sure 2022 season was a mixed bag from successful to challenging, depending on what grower and/or shed you ask,” he said. However, Bybee noted, Marketing Order 958, the nation’s oldest such FMO, provides a compass for maintaining quality.
“There were definitely challenges for many, but having a marketing order helps keep us all with consistent high quality output,” he said.
At a fairly steady acreage of 20,000-plus, the region does not see a large fluctuation in what is planted.
“I think acreage is pretty consistent, but yields will be much better and hopefully quality also,” the marketing committee chair said. In early September Bybee commented that both “yield and quality look much better now than the past two seasons, but overall we look to be down on our ‘normal season’ three-year average. Certainly it’s not an alarming crop, and it should be completely manageable.”
Aside from a few aberrant weather patterns, the region had a good growing season. “We did get planted a bit later than we usually want, but conditions improved following that, and a generally mild summer allowed us to get caught up,” Bybee said.
Some shippers began their early season after the first of August, and by September more had come on and others were waiting to kick off after Labor Day. Bybee said he expected mid-September to see onions begin to go into storage, depending on weather.
“Sizing is good, and yields are average at this time,” he said pre-Labor Day.
As for market conditions, he said, “I think marketing will struggle, and I say this based on multiple years of onion shortages. I predict a fairly normal amount of onion supply — probably closer to what everyone hoped when they planted. My personal guess is companies with poor marketing strategies will not remember how to market a ‘normal’ onion supply. Poor marketing hurts us all in the end.”
He said, “There is a radio commercial I keep hearing about salesmen, and how a very high number of salesmen have never been properly trained, taken a marketing class or even read a book about selling anything. I’m pretty sure that applies to onions.”
Perennial challenges remain, Bybee said. “I’m guessing transportation will get difficult due to fuel prices. At the same time, if the economy ever slows, there could be more trucks needing loads. But I don’t want to hope for economic struggles to make transportation easier. Hopefully all the pieces fall together.”
Addressing imports/exports, Bybee said, “I have heard of countries that may have shortages, which could be positive to the market. Time will tell.”
Inflation? “It’s real,” Bybee said. Labor is “expensive and not as effective as what it once was,” and as for inputs, Bybee said there’s not much change.
“Things are very expensive, and some items/parts are still a struggle to find,” he commented.