Ag report: It’s a veggie world, and Oregon onions are tops

By Bruce Pokarney
Oregon Department of Agriculture

Once again, statistics show that Oregon is among the nation’s leaders in the production of several types of vegetable crops, whether they are grown for processing or for the fresh market. Variety, quantity, and quality all describe the state’s vegetable production.

“The wide array of vegetables we grow is another example of the tremendous diversity of Oregon agriculture,” says Erick Garman, a trade development manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “It’s not just that we grow vegetable crops, Oregon is also one of the leading states in production for many of these vegetables.”

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has recently issued its annual summary of US vegetable production for 2015. The numbers show Oregon as a top ten state in several categories. Overall, Oregon ranks 6th of all states in the production of fresh market vegetables at more than 777,000 tons and 9th in value of production of fresh vegetables at more than $160 million. The production value is a 24 percent increase over the previous year.

Oregon continues to be a major producer of vegetables for processing, ranking 5th in the nation in both production and value of production at 316,000 tons and nearly $58 million respectively. Both figures are also increases over 2014’s numbers.

California is still the jolly green giant of the vegetable world– growing more than half of the nation’s fresh market vegetables and 75 percent of the nation’s vegetables for processing– but Oregon and its northern neighbor, Washington, both do very well compared to all other states.

Production-wise, for every pound of vegetables grown for processing in Oregon, more than 2 pounds of vegetables are grown for the fresh market. In terms of dollars paid to the grower, those who grow for the fresh market make $3 for every $1 paid for vegetables grown for processing. Consumers are willing to pay for those fresh vegetables that come right out of the field. In particular, Oregonians have increased their appetite for locally-grown food in general, which bodes well for vegetable growers.

“Even though processing is a major destination for Oregon vegetables, there is a strong fresh market as well,” says Garman. “Anyone who has visited a farmers market, a roadside farm stand, a neighborhood grocery store, or a restaurant that offers local foods can tell you all about the variety of fresh and delicious vegetable crops that are grown in Oregon.”

For the second consecutive year, fresh market vegetable production across the US is down slightly. Oregon has bucked the national trend by showing a little more than a one-percent increase.

On the processing side, vegetable production nationwide is up very slightly over 2014. Oregon’s increase in production of vegetables for processing is an impressive 5.5 percent.

“Oregon is one of the nation’s leaders in many individual vegetable crops grown for processing and consumers can enjoy those products either as canned or frozen all throughout the year,” says Garman.

Virtually every state grows at least some sweet corn, but it might surprise many Oregonians just how much is produced in their home state. Over the past three years, overall sweet corn production in Oregon has increased 75 percent. Oregon ranks 6th in production for fresh market corn behind California, Florida, Georgia, Washington, and New York. However, because of a relatively low price paid for fresh market sweet corn compared to other states, Oregon ranks only 13th in production value at $11.6 million. Oregon fares better in the rankings of sweet corn grown for processing, sitting at 4th in production and value at nearly $28 million. Neighboring Washington is No. 2 at more than $76 million.

Three states are responsible for virtually all garlic grown for the fresh market– California is an overwhelming number one, followed by Nevada and Oregon. NASS is unable to disclose Oregon data for 2015 in order to protect the identity of individual operations, but the value of production for fresh market garlic in Oregon was a shade over $1 million in 2014– not a huge economic driver statewide but certainly important to Central Oregon and Jefferson County, where much of the garlic is grown along with Marion County.

Oregon remains a national leader in production of onions for both fresh market and processing. What NASS refers to as “summer storage” onions– the predominant type grown in the US– Oregon ranks 2nd, producing more than 65,185 tons last year. Total production value for both fresh market and processed onions exceeded $125 million, which is up from 2014 and good enough to rank Oregon onions 3rd in the US. Only one time in the NASS vegetable report is a specific county mentioned with its own production and value statistics– Malheur County, because of its onion production which tops that of the rest of the state.

Although not a major crop in Oregon, squash grown for the fresh market and for processing ranks first of all states, slightly ahead of Michigan. In fact, Oregon’s 61,500 tons of squash grown in 2015 is a 57 percent increase over 2014’s total. Again, relatively low prices paid for Oregon squash compared to other states pushes the production value down to 8th in the nation at $9.8 million.

For vegetables grown for processing, Oregon remains in the top five for production of snap beans and green peas. Once again, NASS cannot disclose 2015 Oregon data for these vegetable crops in order to protect the identity of individual operations.

It won’t be long before spring and some of the early season vegetables will be available at dozens of farmers’ markets around the state. Once the growing season is well established, more of the great tasting veggies will find their way to consumers through numerous venues. Of course, frozen and canned vegetable products from Oregon are available 12 months a year.

Many consumers and most, if not all growers believe Oregon vegetables rank number one in quality.