The New Mexico Onion industry was begun in the late 1930's, based on New Mexico Early Grano, a variety developed by the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station. Growth in acreage occurred sporadically since that time, until about 1980 when the planted acreage was about 3000. Since 1980 the acreage has grown significantly to a maximum of about 10,000. Since 1990 it has fluctuated from 8 to 10 thousand acres annually.
The growth was spurred in part by the availability of improved varieties uniquely adapted to the New Mexico environment. Major improvements were made in resistance to bolting (seed stalk development) among fall-planted varieties, and in resistance to soil borne diseases like pink root. The improvements in pink root resistance in spring-planted, intermediate varieties was especially beneficial for varieties harvested in early July. New varieties and increases in transplanted acreage also have helped to spread the harvest season, providing harvest continuity from late May through August.
The growth in acreage was accompanied by structural changes in the harvesting and marketing aspects of the industry. Some consolidation has occurred, with an increase in the number of growers who grow more than 100 acres. There has been a vertical integration of the industry, with individual growers controlling much of the harvest and grading operations. In some instances growers are either brokering their own crop, or they may employ a broker exclusively during the New Mexico harvest season.
New Mexico growers have diversified their markets, with an increasing volume of product now sold to processing outlets. The primary markets are for onion rings, and for frozen, chopped product. Only very small acreages have been grown for dehydration up to this time.
Initially, the industry developed in the Mesilla and Hatch valleys. Only small acreages were grown in eastern counties. Much of the growth has been in Luna county near Deming and Columbus, N.M. Several hundred acres are now grown in the Uvas valley. A few hundred acres are grown near Clovis and Portales in eastern New Mexico, and some in the Pecos valley near Roswell. Less than 500 acres are grown in northwestern New Mexico, near Farmington. The northwestern acreage is stored and marketed through the winter months. All other production is sold as fresh market (non-storage) onions, except that which is sold to processors.
Recently, several New Mexico growers and shippers are promoting and marketing 'sweet' onions. Nationally, sweet onion marketing has expanded rapidly, with promotional programs in most of the short-day production regions.