South Texas has robust onion acreage
With 7,200 acres in the ground for the 2023 season, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has the potential for harvesting its largest onion crop in a decade.
At least that’s the view of Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association and manager of the South Texas Onion Committee. The committee is responsible for managing Federal Marketing Onion 959, which collects assessments from Texas onion producers to enforce quality standards, fund research and conduct marketing programs.
“We have the most acreage we have had in nearly a decade and the growing conditions could not be better,” he said, noting warm weather in the winter and spring, no major rain storms and a good amount of wind to keep down the pest population are behind his lofty expectations. “We are expecting a very good season as there are a lot of great onions out in the fields.”
Galeazzi said that while April will still see the vast majority of shipments, some growers have gotten off to an early start. “Typically, we don’t get started until St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), but this year some folks have already started,” he said on March 1.
He added that grower-shippers are especially bullish this year because “there has been a strong onion market for quite a while.” He anticipates that it will remain strong throughout the Texas season. “Texas offers consumers the first U.S. fresh onions of the year and with their high water content they are perfect for both cooking and eating raw,” Galeazzi said.
He said STOC, in conjunction with TIPA, “will be promoting Texas 1015 Sweets both B-to-B and B-to-C.” The committee works with marketing partners to create a significant presence on social media platforms, including using both Pinterest and TikTok to post videos highlighting usage ideas for the well-known Texas onion. Galeazzi added that social media toolkits have been developed for both retailer and foodservice customers to utilize in their own promotional campaigns. In addition, these social media toolkits are distributed to shippers who can then pass on promotion tips to their customers.
As the first fresh sweet onion of the year, Galeazzi said Texas onions “are sold in all four corners of the country,” but he said they are especially popular in Texas where residents are proud of their Texas heritage and happy to consume locally-grown products. “We engage with Texas consumers as much as we can,” he said. “There are 850 people relocating to Texas each and every day. We take it upon ourselves to educate them about locally-grown produce.”
The Texas 1015 onion variety was first developed in the early 1980s by the late Dr. Leonard Pike of Texas A&M University and his students. It gained national and even international fame as a single centered onion with a sweet taste. Though the original 1015 onion has been replaced by many newer, better and sweeter varieties, Texas still uses that moniker to promote its sweet onions. “The sweet onions we are selling today are the great grand children of the original,” Galeazzi said, noting that they’re all in the same family. “The newer varieties are larger and smaller and there is even a flat onion compared to the original, which was a very round onion.”
He said the Texas 1015 still has a lot of panache both in the industry and to consumers so it has remained the generic name for the Texas sweet onion.
Returning to the solid acreage numbers for this season, Galeazzi believes it is a reflection of more certainty in the marketplace and growers getting back to a more normal cycle of events. He reasoned that the pandemic of 2020 and 2021, followed by shortages and rising prices in 2022, led to much uncertainty, which creates hesitancy on the part of producers. “Let’s face it. Last year we saw almost all inputs increasing in cost and no one knew where they were going,” he said. “This year, we are better able to forecast what’s going on which gives growers more confidence.”
He added that the dry, warm winter was being forecast as growers were preparing their ground in the fall, which also increased their level of confidence that they could produce a good crop this year. Consequently, last year’s decrease in acreage has been followed by an uptick this year, and the expectation of a great season. “We certainly hope so,” Galeazzi quipped.