Quebec experienced a relatively hot and very dry summer this year, which left much of the province under drought conditions. While this has been an undesirable situation for many growers and communities, it has resulted in a good quality crop of onions, which requires such conditions. The side effect of this is that volume and sizing is down slightly.
"Winter came earlier this year and as a result, we finished harvesting a little early," noted Steven Lemelin of Bunny Farm in Saint Hyacinthe. "It was right on the edge of when you have to leave product in the field. In the end we did indeed decide to leave some potatoes in the ground and made sure we harvested all our onions."
"Volume is ok, but it's the quality that really stood out this year," he continued. "The reason is because it was a very dry summer this year. We try to irrigate but it's not possible to cover all the fields at once and therefore we did the best we could. Some acres of onions were lost, but what we did harvest was of excellent quality."
Market was good early
There has been a generally tight supply of onions across much of North America, especially earlier in the season. This has resulted in a favorable market for growers who entered it relatively early, including Quebec growers. Once Washington started however, prices eased back as the considerable volume entered the market.
"Everybody has less onions this year but when Washington started, the prices went down," Lemelin explained. "They tend to break all the deals with the amount of onions they produce. Prior to their season, prices were very good."
Bunny Farm sells mainly wholesale to repackers and the company therefore concentrates on shipping onions in bulk, although Lemelin suggested consumer packaging would be considered should the market dictate it. For now, he said they are doing well shipping the varieties they offer. "We mainly grow yellows and reds and we cover the range of sizes within those categories."
Good year to compete with Washington
With quality at such a high level this year, it provided a good opportunity for Quebec onion growers to offer their product competitively against the volume of Washington. Lemelin mentioned that the quality of Washington onions is very high due to their particular climate, but that this year Quebec experienced similar conditions, enabling it to have a firm place in the market.
"It's hard to match the quality of Washington onions," he said. "Their climate does produce a really nice onion. This year, with the dry summer in Quebec, our quality was high. If it is rainy like it was last year, it can cause some problems with the storage crop. The key is in the drying of the onions out in the field."
"We sell our onions locally, as well as in Ontario and right along the East Coast," Lemelin concluded. "Our main focus is eastern Canada and the US East Coast."