Onions are a beloved vegetable for their powerful flavor.
Whether you fry them and eat them on their own or chop them up and use them in other dishes, onions have a place in almost everyone’s kitchen.
However, you may have noticed that your usual onions have become more expensive.
Considering that onions are a basic crop, you may wonder what’s caused them to become so expensive.
Why Are Onions So Expensive? (10 Reasons)
The average price of onions is around $1.50.
However, some onions cost around $2 or more.
Certain factors like problems with growing onions and which type of onion it is are making the price a bit more expensive.
Let’s look at these factors in more detail.
1. Drought Problems
There’s no question that one of the biggest problems leading to higher onion prices is drought.
A good number of the onions grown in the United States come from California.
The problem with California is that most of the state has been experiencing a drought.
Hot temperatures and little rainfall are to blame for the drought.
Onions require a fair bit of water to stay alive.
When the crop doesn’t get enough, the onions fail to grow.
That impacts the supply of onions that are available for the market.
It also impacts the future onion harvest.
Farmers are unable to plant new onions seeds if the soil is still too dry.
It interferes with the seed’s ability to sprout.
Because of that, there’s a good chance that future harvests will also face difficulties with strong yields.
Because there’s a shortage, grocery stores have to outbid each other for crates of onions.
Since they’re paying higher prices to acquire onions, they’re going to be selling them at higher prices.
Onions are expensive because of the drought impacting California.
2. Winter Storms Causing Shortages
One of the unique qualities of onions is that they’re able to withstand colder temperatures.
Part of that likely stems from the fact that the bulb is in the ground.
As such, a few cold temperatures shouldn’t affect the health of the onion too much.
However, when temperatures drop below freezing, onions can start to have problems.
At this point, it’s a matter of how long the freezing temperatures remain.
If it’s cold for a few days or even weeks, the onions may not survive.
However, if it’s only a single day of cold, there’s a good chance that the onions will be all right.
Recently, some states in the western part of the United States experienced a few winter storms.
While not all the onions died as a result, some fields suffered damage from the storm.
This also impacts the supply of available onions.
It further deepens the shortage.
Because there’s a shortage, consumers are having to pay high prices.
Onions are expensive because some winter storms destroyed some fields.
3. Salmonella Cases
Another problem that regularly impacts the supply of onions is salmonella outbreaks.
Salmonella is a serious bacterial disease that can be very unpleasant for those who become infected by it.
Although most people are fine without treatment, some can die from the disease.
As such, whenever a salmonella outbreak occurs, anything that came into contact with the source is recalled.
Onions have had their share of salmonella outbreaks.
Whenever a farm experiences an outbreak, they essentially lose a lot of money.
They’re unable to sell their harvest because they can’t trust that the disease isn’t everywhere.
They’d have to test every onion, and that would be even more expensive than simply recalling them.
Furthermore, since an outbreak impacts the supply of onions, it can make a shortage even worse.
Grocery stores have even fewer options at that point.
Salmonella can be difficult to protect against, too.
While farmers all follow certain protocols to lower the risk of exposure, it’s a real concern when using fertilizer.
Anytime there’s a salmonella outbreak among onions, you can expect the price of onions to increase.
Onions are expensive when there’s a salmonella outbreak.
4. Fuel Costs
Farmers are facing a lot of increased costs.
Those increased costs are also leading to higher onion prices.
One of the increased costs that they have to contend with is fuel.
Fuel costs are expensive for a few reasons.
Some oil refineries have either scaled back production or closed entirely.
Trade embargoes have also impacted the price of fuel.
The problem with high fuel costs is that farming becomes a lot more expensive.
Farmers need a lot of fuel to power their tractors.
Since some farms use a lot of machines in their line of work, they also have high fuel costs.
That cuts into their profits and requires them to sell onions and other crops at higher prices.
Fuel costs also become a problem when it comes to transportation.
Whether they’re transporting onions by truck or ship, most transport vehicles still use fuel.
Depending on how far the onions need to go, the vehicle could run up an expensive fuel bill before it reaches its destination.
That impacts how much a farmer or grocery store needs to pay, too.
Fuel costs can increase the cost of growing and procuring onions.
To offset those costs, farmers and grocery stores need to sell their onions at higher prices.
Onions are expensive because of high fuel costs.
5. Fertilizer Costs
Another big cost that farmers have to contend with is fertilizer.
The price of fertilizer has been a point of contention for a lot of farmers.
Farms need fertilizer to stimulate growth in their fields.
It helps nourish the soil which, in turn, helps the crops grow large.
Without fertilizer, there’s a chance that their crops won’t grow to the right standard used for human consumption.
Because of that, farmers are rather desperate to get their hands on fertilizer.
The problem with fertilizer is that there’s been an ongoing shortage.
Several factors are at play, which contribute to the lack of fertilizer.
Russia hasn’t been able to export ammonia and nitrogen to make fertilizer.
China has started to pull away from ammonia production in pursuit of greener technology.
Without these two main suppliers, fertilizer companies have fewer resources to make their products.
As a result, they can only make so many bags of fertilizer.
This means that farmers have to spend more money on fertilizer.
Considering how large some of their fields can be, that’s a heavy investment to make.
As a result, farmers have high costs.
To break even, they need to charge higher prices on their crops like onions.
Onions are expensive because of the high cost of fertilizer.
6. Some Onions Need Handpicking
One of the ways that some farmers can save money is by using machines.
It reduces how much labor they need to have and pay.
The problem with onions is that some of them are delicate.
If a machine were to dig them up, there’s a chance that they’d break the onions in the process.
The entire field could face ruin.
As such, some farmers have no choice but to hire labor to handpick onions.
Handpicking crops takes a long time.
It requires careful work. Otherwise, the worker will just ruin the onion, too.
Besides the labor itself, farmers also face longer harvest times.
Handpicking onions takes far longer than just using a machine.
As a result, the farmer is paying labor wages over a longer period as well.
That can make their costs increase.
Some brands will also use this for marketing.
They’ll make their onions seem superior since workers handpicked them in the fields.
That’ll usually add a bit to the price tag as well.
Onions are expensive when farmers have to handpick them.
7. Red Onions Are Harder To Grow
The variety of onions also impacts their price.
Red onions, for example, tend to be a bit more expensive than the other types of onion.
That’s because red onions are a bit more difficult to grow.
They have a few more vulnerabilities than other onions.
Sometimes they require a bit more water or a bit more sun.
Since they’re finicky, they don’t always have the strongest yields.
As such, the number of onions that a farmer produces isn’t always as high as the other types of onions.
Even if there isn’t a shortage of other onions, there may still be a shortage of red onions.
As such, red onions will be on the more expensive side.
Red onions also take a bit longer to grow than other types of onions.
As such, they take in more resources to grow.
More water and more fertilizer go into their growth.
To make up for the resources lost to red onions, the farmer has to put a higher price on them.
Onions are expensive when they’re red onions.
8. Take Some Time To Mature
One of the annoying aspects of onions is that they take some time to grow compared to other crops.
Onions can take anywhere from 100 to 175 days to reach final maturity.
Meanwhile, they’re soaking in costs.
The farmer has to spend more water and fertilizer on them to ensure the onions keep growing.
It also means they have to keep weeding them, which can be difficult to do since most weeding is also done by hand.
It’s too dangerous to bring in a weed whacker, for example, and some farmers have done away with using herbicides.
The longer the onions take to grow, the more money the farmer is spending on them.
Onions are expensive because they take a relatively long time to grow and mature.
9. Iris Yellow Spot Disease
Onions are no strangers to diseases either.
One particular disease that onions often fall victim to is iris yellow spot disease.
Onions become infected with iris yellow spot disease when infected onion thrips—insects—eat the plants.
It’s a virus that spreads throughout the onion and causes lesions to appear.
The problem with iris yellow spot disease is that it can impact the current field of onions as well as the next field.
When the disease occurs, it can make a shortage of onions even worse.
With fewer onions on the market, the price increases.
Onions are expensive during outbreaks of iris yellow spot disease.
10. Onion Bulb Size Varies
A final reason onions are expensive has to do with the bulb size of the onion.
The larger the bulb is, the more expensive the onion is.
That’s because many grocery stores sell by weight.
Larger bulbs tend to weigh more than smaller bulbs.
Larger bulbs are also more valuable in terms of quality.
It provides more of a product.
There’s also a good chance the farmer put in a few costs to ensure their onions reached that size.
That impacts the price as well.
Onions are expensive when they have large bulbs.
Onions are a popular vegetable for their flavor.
However, due to the difficulty of growing onions and the costs associated with farming, they’ve become a bit more expensive.