South Texas onion growers have planted more acres than they did last year based on speculation that drug cartel violence may keep Mexican onions out of the U.S. market next year, according to an expert with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

“Onion acreage here is up by as much as 2,000 acres over last year’s 8,700 acres based on several factors, including the fact that competing Mexican onions may not make it into the U.S. during our harvest window next year,” said Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco.

Other factors include lingering memories of high market prices for last year’s crop and excellent planting weather this year, Anciso said.

“Weather was a huge problem last year,” Anciso said. “We had lots of rain that affected both planting and harvesting in Mexico and here in South Texas. But not this year. The entire peak planting month of October here was dry and it stayed that way until the end of the planting window on Nov. 15.”

Bad weather last season led to fewer onions and higher market prices for growers who were able to cash in.

“Depending on how much rain they got, some growers here made a killing, some broke even and some lost their shirts,” he said.

Mexican onions, which usually compete with the South Texas onion harvest in the spring, were not a factor due to heavy tropical rains there too.

“This year, regardless of what kind of weather Mexico has, speculation among growers is that the drug violence will keep Mexican onions from competing with our onions again this season,” Anciso said.

There’s no way to determine how much seed was bought and planted in Mexico this fall, but the violence will have an impact this year that wasn’t there last year, he said.

“It’s getting difficult to farm there and even harder to find trucks to ship the produce up here.”

While the North American Free Trade Agreement pushed farmers south into Mexico during the 1990s, the violence is now pushing growers back to the U.S., Anciso said.