Onions

onionsRevised November 2017

Introduction

Onions are the fourth most consumed fresh vegetable in the U.S, behind potatoes, tomatoes and sweet corn. In 2016, the annual per capita utilization of onions (fresh and dehydrated) was 20.3 pounds per person. Fresh uses account for most consumption (93% in 2016). 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. 

Marketing

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.
 

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, approximately 19.7 percent of the fresh marketed onions utilized in 2016 in the U.S. was imported

Production

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 132,600 acres of onions (spring, summer, and storage) were harvested in 2016, with average yields of summer storage onions at 542 cwt per acre. Approximately, 66.7 million pounds of harvested onions were utilized in the U.S. in 2016 with an estimated value of $925.83 million.

According to the National Onion Association, the top four onion producing areas or states are Washington, Idaho-Eastern Oregon, California, and Georgia

Prices

In 2013, the average national price per hundred weight for onions averaged $13.90 per hundred weight.

Financials:

Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value per acre is $7,530. 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

Sources:

Onion Production in California

The Most Consumed Vegetables in the US

USDA Economic Research Service (ERS): Vegetable and Pulses Data, 2017  

Vegetables Annual Summary, National Ag Statistics Service, USDA, 2017.