Onion Cost and Return Estimates, 2007

Guide Z-110

Jerry M. Hawkes, James D. Libbin, Hollie Jones, and Brandon Jones

College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University

Authors: Assistant Professor and and RITF Economist; Professor and Extension Farm Management Specialist; Research Assistant; and Research Assistant, respectively, all with New Mexico State University, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Print Friendly PDF)

Long-run continued success of New Mexico’s commercial onion crop will, as always, depend upon the profitability of the crop in any or all of its various forms. Table 1 presents typical costs and returns of producing onions in the primary producing areas of New Mexico. These estimates provide comparisons that can be used by current and prospective onion producers and processors to assess the profitability of onion production.

Table 1. Costs and returns for producing onions in New Mexico for 2007.
County/ Area Doña Ana/ Sierra Luna Doña Ana/ Sierra Luna Doña Ana/ Sierra Luna
Variety Fall Fall Midseason Midseason Sweet Spanish Late
Marketing System Wholesale Wholesale Wholesale Wholesale Wholesale Wholesale
Fall Units 1,200 Sacks 820 Sacks        
Midseason Units     675 Sacks 670 Sacks    
Late Units         825 Sacks 820 Sacks
Price Fall $6.63 $6.63        
Price Midseason     $7.21 $7.21    
Price Late         $6.97 $6.97
Gross Returns 7,956 5,748.20 4,866.75 4,830.70 5,750.25 5,715.40
Cash Operating Expenses
Seed 420 280 600 600 600 600
Fertilizer 412 229.13 306 229.13 306 216
Chemicals 196.12 107.11 140.59 140.94 140.51 140.94
Crop Insurance
Other Purchased Inputs
Canal Water $99.67   $89.00   $99.67  
Fuel & Lubricants-Equipment $64.80 $62.63 $58.48 $60.93 $58.48 $60.93
Fuel-Irrigation $0.05 $154.69 $0.05 $132.59 $0.05 $132.59
Repairs $1.43 $0.81 $1.43 $0.81 $1.43 $0.81
Custom Charges $4,916.04 $3,387.34 $2,800.51 $2,779.76 $3,405.02 $3,384.39
Land Taxes $9.65 $1.76 $9.65 $1.76 $9.65 $1.76
Other Expenses $71.58 $65.75 $71.58 $65.75 $71.58 $65.75
Total Cash Expenses (B) $6,191.34 $4,289.22 $4,077.29 $4,011.67 $4,692.39 $4,603.17
Return Over Cash Expenses (C=A-B) $1,764.66 $1,458.98 $789.46 $819.03 $1,057.86 $1,112.23
Fixed Expenses (D) $64.76 $94.12 $60.59 $86.96 $60.90 $86.96
Total Expenses (E=B+D) $6,256.10 $4,383.34 $4,137.88 $4,098.63 $4,753.29 $4,690.13
Net Farm Income (F=A-E=C-D) $1,699.90 $1,364.86 $728.87 $732.07 $996.96 $1,025.27
Labor and Management Costs (G) $280.96 $247.47 $262.22 $279.69 $276.03 $278.38
Net Operating Profit (H=F-G) $1,418.94 $1,117.39 $466.65 $452.38 $720.93 $746.89
Capital Costs
Interest on Operating Capital (I) $83.55 $52.01 $69.58 $61.63 $74.04 $65.13
Interest on Equipment Investment (J) $37.08 $29.86 $35.07 $29.13 $35.07 $29.1
Total Capital Costs (K=I+J) $120.63 $81.87 $104.65 $90.76 $109.11 $94.26
Return to Land and Risk (L=H-K) $1,298.31 $1,035.52 $362.00 $361.62 $611.92 $652.63
*(Letters in parentheses refer to definitions in the Glossary)

Onions are one of the top ten commodities grown in New Mexico. New Mexico produces three separate onion crops, harvested in fall, mid-season and spring, respectively. Onions are primarily grown in the southern counties of the state. Supplies peak in early

June and July as fall-planted onions mature. Unlike onions grown in northern states, which are stored over the winter, New Mexico’s crop goes straight to stores, mostly in southern and eastern states. New Mexico’s onions are sold as fresh-market onions, but a portion of the crop is also used for onion rings and frozen products. Regardless of the end use of the onion, the crop must provide an adequate return to cover all of the producer’s costs.

Obtaining a higher price or reducing costs can generate increased profit. The cost-return relationship must be examined carefully by every producer of every commodity, whether in agriculture, manufacturing, or service business. Because of the economic structure of agriculture markets, cost and return relationships are particularly important. The basic building blocks of cost and return analysis are enterprise budgets, which are later organized and compiled into other budgets, including whole farm, partial, and cash flow budgets. An enterprise budget includes all costs and returns associated with producing an enterprise in some particular manner. Enterprise budgets are constructed on a per-unit basis, such as per acre, to make a workable comparison among alternative enterprises. An enterprise is any activity that results in a product used on the farm or sold in the market, and a farm is made up of any one or many enterprises. Each enterprise requires a certain combination of resources, such as land, labor, machinery, capital, and purchased inputs.

Enterprise budgets can estimate costs and returns on enterprises currently in the farm plan, as well as for new enterprises being considered. Most enterprise budgets also list physical resources needed for production, which is useful information for prospective new producers of a commodity. In addition to producers, many other professionals in agriculture find enterprise budgets valuable information sources. These include lenders, assessors and appraisers, consultants, and lawyers. The New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service publishes representative budgets for various regions of the state annually. These enterprise budgets represent typical costs and returns for a given size and method of production, in a particular region of the state. The budgets are not averages, but represent typical situations.

NMSU budgets represent current conditions for farming situations where management is above average. Adjusting these budgets for prices and yields expected in the future would increase their value as decision-making tools. Projections based upon the unique set of conditions on each farm would be of most value. Some items can be modified easily to build more personalized budgets. Quantities and prices of purchased inputs, yields and prices of crops, the cost of fuel, and labor costs may be readily adapted to individual farms. Another example of a modification to these budgets is to analyze each operation performed on each crop. If these operations are performed in a different pattern, the budgets should be changed. Yields and prices of the crops are highly variable from year to year. In analyzing historical budgets for use in forward planning, the astute manger will decide how much risk can be absorbed and select cropping patterns accordingly. In forward planning, the manger should consider both optimistic and pessimistic price-and-yield combinations to account for risk, and should consider crop rotation plans.

The effect of the various costs on planning decisions and business analysis is very important. These estimates present a full cost approach to enterprise analysis. Many of the costs are opportunity costs, that is, they are real costs of doing business but may not be cash expenditures. For example, if all labor is provided by the operator, then the entire amount listed in these estimates is money that can be kept by the operator—it represents a return to operator from family labor. Similarly, all land and all capital is charged at competitive rates regardless of whether land is rented or owned or whether capital is borrowed or owned.

The key to interpreting the bottom-line figure calculated in these estimates lies in the type of decision at hand. For next year’s crop, the important point is the level of gross margins, the returns minus all cash expenses. Can enough cash be generated to meet reasonable family living needs and to cover all financial debt commitments? In the long run, all expenses must be covered (of particular importance when trying to determine whether to buy a farm). In the short run, though a negative net income is not desirable it will not necessarily cause business failure. For a short while, depreciation and other non-cash costs can provide a cushion to allow producers additional financial flexibility.

Budgets like these are updated annually. More detailed estimates and a guide to using the budgets can be obtained from the author. NMSU Extension publication 400-Z-32, “Understanding and Using NMSU Crop Enterprise Budgets”, is also in circulation at the NMSU library.


Depreciation expense: Annual allowance for the deterioration of an asset whose productive life is more than one year. Depreciation is not paid in cash, but it is an expense to the business since the purchase price of a long-lived asset cannot and should not be deducted in any one year.

Enterprise budget: A detailed full-cost listing of all returns and cost (whether paid or unpaid) associated with a particular crop or livestock enterprise.

Fixed costs: Expenses that do not vary with the level of production, such as depreciation and personal property taxes. For example, personal property taxes are the same on a tractor regardless of whether that tractor is used on one acre or on 300 acres. (Line E)

Gross returns: Total cash receipts from a crop, i.e., total yield times price. (Line A)

Interest on operating capital and equipment investment: A calculated cost, or opportunity cost, on the use of capital in the farm business. For some farmers, interest cost will be an outlay, while for others it will be an imputed cost. (Lines I and J)

Net farm income: Returns to labor management, capital, land and risk, i.e., gross returns minus purchased inputs, fuel, oil, lubricants, repairs, and fixed costs. (Line F)

Net operating profit: Gross returns minus total operating expenses. (Line H)

Operating capital: Operating expenses minus fixed costs, i.e. the amount of cash required for all purchased inputs (including labor, fuel, oil and repairs) to produce a crop, without regard to machinery, equipment and land investments.

Operating expenses: The total of all costs of producing a crop, except interest.

Opportunity cost: The cost of using a resource in one enterprise when it could be used in alternative enterprises or investment opportunities measured by the return that could be obtained from using the resource in an alternative investment. For example, if cash used in crop production could be placed in the bank at a 10% rate of interest, the opportunity cost of cash to the crop would be 10%.

Overhead expenses: Expenses not directly associated with production, such as insurance, employee benefits, land taxes, and utilities. These costs occur without regard to level of production or whether production exits at all.

Partial budgeting: A planning procedure that lists only items of receipt and expenses that are affected by a particular change in procedure or organization.

Rate of return on investment: Net operating profit divided by the total machinery, equipment, and land investment. A measure of profitability of assets in percentage terms.

Return over cash expense: Gross returns less all cash operating expenses. (Line C = A − B)

Return to land and risk: Net operating profit minus the interest change on the use of machinery, equipment, and operating capital. This return figure shows the final return before a land charge is calculated. (Line L)

Return to risk: Return to land and risk minus a charge for land investment; the amount of gross returns left over after charges are made for every factor of production.

Variable cost: Expenses that vary with the level of production, such as labor, fuel, oil and repairs, fertilizer, and seed.

Gross margins: Returns minus variable costs; the most important short-run planning figure.

Return to capital, labor, land, and risk: Charges for the listed factors of capital, labor, and land have not yet been subtracted from gross returns. Typically, these three factors are owned.

Whole-farm budget: Projected crop mix revenues and expenses for a production year. A projected plan and income statement.

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May 2007, Las Cruces, NM.