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How Do We Have Onions Year-Round?

Onions are the world’s second highest-produced vegetable, which is the top reason they’re demanded year-round. Onion production comes in at roughly 90 million tons yearly. On average, Americans enjoy 22 pounds of onions each year. Grown in over 170 countries across the globe, onions are in constant production to ensure a supply chain that meets consumer demands.

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Onion Production Year-Round

The top onion producers in the United States are WashingtonIdahoOregonCalifornia, and most sweet onions come from Georgia. These states are famous for growing root vegetables, like potatoes. In 2009, Georgia produced the most Vidalia onions they ever had, with a value of more than $126M. The U.S. isn’t responsible for making all of the onions the country consumes. With Mexico being the top producer with 1.4M tons of onions, Spain and China are also responsible for producing U.S. onions when the country is not in the harvesting season. In 2020, Mexico produced 54% of the U.S. onions, while Spain produced 10.4%, and China made 12.9%.

Harvesting Onions Year-Round

Onions are grown underground and harvested based on how the tops look. An onion’s “top” will determine the size of the onion. Once the seed is planted, the duration from seed to maturity depends on its climate. Dirt underground stays cool year-round, which makes any time of the year ideal for growing onions. Scallions (green onions) are immature onions and are ready for harvest in as little as a few weeks. After planting, it takes 3-4 months until the bulb becomes mature enough to harvest. So, if the seed is planted in early spring, it matures and is ready to harvest in summer or fall.

If onions are ready to harvest by hand, farmers pull the bulb between evening to midnight, but if machinery is available, they can start harvesting at midnight. Farmers wait until the sun goes down to harvest onions because this is the coolest time of the day, with the most shade. Onions should not be harvested when it’s sunny or warm because it runs the risk of sunburn. White onions do not require a machine for harvesting. The process begins with cutting the green tops, digging up the onion, and loading them onto a trailer to cure. When curing onions, it is vital to keep the bulbs clean, dry, and in an airy and warm environment to prevent rotting. After curing for at least 12-24 hours, the onions undergo an infrared light scan for any issues.

The types of machinery that farmers use to harvest onions include:

  • Mower | This Machine is used for cutting the onion tops that are sticking out of the ground.
  • Windrower | A Windrower digs the onion out from the ground and passes them through a conveyer belt to remove soil and place them into rows.
  • Top Air | Top Air machines pick up the rows of onions for the farmers to start sorting by hand.

Weather & Climate

Due to onions’ shallow roots, they have trouble taking in moisture. As a result, onions need a constant water supply while simultaneously keeping the top inch of soil moist and not saturating the ground too much to the point of bulb rot.

Onions need an optimum growing temperature of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit but still survive at temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit for up to a few hours. With onions, the more sunlight, the better. There is no such thing as overexposure to sunlight with an onion.

Packaging Onions Year-Round

Once the onions are harvested, cured, inspected, and sorted, groupings are placed inside a breathable mesh bag. The groups of bagged onions are placed in a waxed fiberboard box with ventilation to maintain freshness when being transported to a co-op by trailer. Before shipping onions, consider palletizing the shipment for easy transportation and to save space in the container. Dry and green onions should have slits at the bottom of their box to ensure cool air flows throughout the package. When the onions are ready to be shipped via freight, they need to be packaged more securely, so crates and cartons are suitable for transport. Packages are generally placed in ventilated containers such as open-sided containers, open-top containers, or flat racks for transit. Onions are damaged so easily, that even setting them down too rough will result in damage.

Transporting Onions

While in transit, onions must remain at a constant temperature to reduce the possibility of spoiling. Refrigerated trailers are ideal for the transportation of onions because they can maintain a regulated temperature and humidity point. In addition to their Cryogenic cooling abilities, these trailers provide humidity and moisture control settings. Shippers use this method to ensure all the onions are kept cool, especially the ones at the bottom of the box. The onions need ventilation so instead of wrapping, they’re secured in place by other packages. There shouldn’t be any big gaps in the container that would allow the packages to shift around or be tipped.

If green onions are in transit, they need a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry storage onions should be transported at 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity point of 65-70%. Dry fresh varieties prefer to be transported at 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A reefer trailer’s effectiveness is affected by airflow. When stacking, ensure there are slits of space for airflow, so it keeps all the packages cool.

why do we have onions year around?
There are four main species of onions: yellow, red, white, and green onion.

Types Of Onions

Though farmers can plant onions year-round, harvest times will determine the quality of those onions. If there is any delay pulling the onion from the ground, it could either result in the best onion anyone has ever had, or it could damage the vegetable. So, knowing when to harvest after planting the onion seed is essential to how fresh these goods are when delivered upon transport.

  • Yellow Onion
    • most common
    • preferred for cooking
    • plant in early spring
    • harvest in 90-160 days around summer or fall
  • Red Onion
    • also known as “sweet onions.”
    • preferred raw
    • plant in early spring
    • harvest in 85-195 days around early fall
  • White Onion
    • consumed raw or cooked
    • plant in early spring
    • Harvest in 90-185 days around summer
  • Green onion
    • Also known as “bunching onions” (scallions)
    • plant in early spring
    • harvest in 60-120 days in late spring or June.
    • preferred garnish

Worldwide Onion Imports & Exports

Onions quickly grow year-round, making significant exports and imports consistent, disregarding the season. Certain onion-growing countries export their crops to the U.S. during the off-season, helping to guarantee onions are available year-round. When the U.S. is at the peak of its production, its most common export destinations are Canada (roughly $146M worth of onions) and Mexico (roughly $62M). In 2020, the United States imported 9k metric tons of onions.

Top Onion Exporters In 2020

  • China | China produces the most and popularizes using onions as garden vermin repellent. They exported the majority of onions to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Japan. Vietnam enjoys Chinese pickled onions year-round.
    • Exported 35.5% onions worth $2.63B
  • The Netherlands | The Netherlands sold 28 million tons of onions in 2020. Their most popular exports were to Germany, U.K., and Belgium.
    • Exported 12.3% onions worth $913M
  • Spain | A variation of Spain’s onions called Calcot is a high demand for celebrations. Spain’s most popular exports were to Germany, U.K., and France.
    • Exported 9.21% onions worth $682M
  • Mexico | This country is known for its tiny onion bulbs. Also known as spring onions, they are no larger than a finger, and this saves room for shipments. Mexico exported 89% of its onions to the U.S. in 2020.
    • Exported 5.95% onions worth $441M
  • India | India is the second top producer of onions with the highest demand as they are essential for every single Indian dish. Its most popular exports were to Bangladesh and Malaysia.
    • Exported 5.02% onions worth $372M

Top Onion Importers In 2020

  • The United States | The U.S. obtains most of its local onions shipped from California. Mexico, Canada, and China gave us the most imports in 2020.
    • Imported 9.64% onions worth $714M
  • Indonesia | 1.8 million metric tons of onions were produced in 2020 and imported almost 90% in 2020 from China.
    • Imported 7.57% onions worth $561M
  • Vietnam | In 2021, the total import value of onions increased by $195 million. Vietnam imported the absolute most in 2020 from China, being 98.3%. This country especially enjoys Chinese onions as a snack, so the demand is high.
    • Imported 7.2% onions worth $533M
  • Germany | Germany shares the responsibility with the Netherlands to provide Europe with the most onions. They produced 629K metric tons of onions in 2020.
    • Imported 5.01% onions worth $371M
  • Brazil | This country produced 6 million tons of onions in 2019. The main countries that contributed to Brazil’s imports the next year are; Argentina(50.1%) and China(33.2%).
    • Imported 4.36% onions worth $323M

Tariffs On Onions

Tariffs are taxes imposed by a country on goods or services imported from another country. While governments implement tariffs, consumers can impact those decisions based on their demand for a product. Onions are the 382nd most traded item in the world. The average tariff for onions in 2018 was 21.8%, the 85th lowest classification for HS7 products.

Ship Produce Year-Round With FreightCenter!

Are you having trouble finding a way to ship your produce products? Let FreightCenter help! We’re experts when it comes to shipping products both nationally and internationally. Our carriers and freight agents can ease you into the process to ensure it’s a smooth ride for you and your shipment. Use FreightCenter’s free online quote tool to begin. Call our shipping experts at 800.716.7608

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