Onions are the third most consumed fresh vegetable in the U.S, behind potatoes and tomatoes. In 2014, the per capita annual consumption of fresh market dry onions was 18.5 pounds per person. Fresh uses account for most consumption (93% in 2012). The onion industry represented the fifth most-valuable vegetable produced in the United States, with a fresh market value of $969.18 million and processing value of $73 million.
Onions provide many attractive qualities to consumers, particularly in today’s health-conscious market. Research has shown that onions are low in calories and are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C.
Onions can be divided into three marketable categories: spring ("green"), summer fresh market onions and fall/winter storage ("dry bulb") onions. Fresh market, or green, onions are pulled while the tops are still green and usually before a large bulb has formed. Fresh market onions can be identified by thin, light-colored skin and may have edible green tops. Summer storage onions (often referred to as dry bulb) accounted for about 87 percent of annual U.S. onion production in 2014.
An important niche market and value-added success story is centered on the Georgia Vidalia Onion industry. Vidalia® onions are the pioneer of sweet onions and are grown only in the mild climate and unique soil surrounding Vidalia, Georgia. This fresh-market onion is available nationwide on supermarket shelves and commands a premium price.
While the fresh market and storage onion markets account for the largest share of onion use, other markets also account for significant production. Most onions used in canning and freezing are sourced from fresh market varieties, while dehydrated products use separate varieties having higher solids content.
Onions are grown commercially in more than 20 states, literally border-to-border and coast-to-coast. Onion bulbing is highly dependent on day length. Varieties are typically categorized as long-day (spring planted in northern regions), short-day (planted in the fall in the south and west), or intermediate-day. Approximately 1139,150 acres of onions (spring, summer, and storage) were harvested in 2014, with average yields of summer storage onions at 522 cwt per acre. Approximately, 2017,280.6 million pounds of onions (all types) were harvested in the U.S. in 2014.
California is the leading state for all types of onion production, followed by Georgia for spring onions, New Mexico for summer non-storage onions and Washington for summer storage onions.
In 2013, the average national price per hundred weight for spring onions was $27.30 per hundred weight, $17.10 for summer non-storage onions, $12.10 for summer storage onions and $8.32 for processed onions. The current, on-going drought in California is likely to have a major impact on the state’s production with potential implications on U.S. supplies and prices now and in the future.
Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value per acre is $6,316. The cost of onion production varies depending the production location and type of onions. It is relatively higher than most vegetables due to crop requirements for water, pest management protection and manual labor (in the case of fresh market onions),
National Retail Report: Fruits and Vegetables: Weekly Advertised Prices for Fruits and Vegetables at Major Retail Supermarket Outlets http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/fvwretail.pdf
USDA ERS: Vegetable and Pulses Data (1970–2104)
Vegetables and Pulses Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2015.
Vegetables Annual Summary, National Ag Statistics Service, USDA, 2015.
Fruit and Vegetable Market News, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), 2014.