By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – More acres of onions are in the ground this year and the crop appears to be good in terms of quality but yields will be down according to local agriculturists.
Across the valley about 22,000 acres of onions are in the ground for the 2017 season. Last year, about 21,000 acres of onion were in use.
Still, it looks like fewer onions per acre will be harvested this year.
“That’s attributable to the wet spring and the very hot spell we had this summer,” said Bruce Corn, a local onion farmer.
Because the storage harvest has yet to start it is impossible to know how far yields will sag this season.
“The crop was planted late and slow to develop. So (yields) are still a moving target,” said Reitz, cropping systems agent for the Malheur Experiment Station.
Harvesting is underway for certain onions, such as green-top onions, a variety collected early and then shipped after they are moderately cured.
The storage harvest, though, will probably not kick off until mid-September.
Climate conditions always play a big role in crop production but this year weather conditions were especially significant.
“July was excessively hot so then the onions shut down and so they don’t grow as well as they could or should,” said Reitz.
Corn said the quality of the onions appears to be very good.
“But size will be affected,” said Corn.
Another big question is whether will be enough storage space for onions. Last winter’s severe winter damaged onion sheds throughout the county.
“Across the whole valley about 60 storage sheds collapsed. Probably close to 75 to 100 others had potential damage to them,” Reitz said.
Farmers went to work rebuilding as fast as they could this summer.
At Baker/Murakami Produce in Ontario, president Grant Kitamura, said his firm is repairing or replacing five buildings, including onion storage facilities.
Kitamura said he expects the buildings to be repaired and ready by the time the Spanish onion harvest begins in September.
So far, Kitamura said he has not heard of a shortage of storage.
Corn said the lower yields this year could mean less need for storage.
“And there is still a lot of construction going on. I think there will be adequate room just because there have been quite a few storage sheds completed,” said Corn.
Alvin Scott, county planning director, said more than 20 destroyed onion storage facilities had been rebuilt across the county. Scott said it is likely more facilities have been rebuilt since the beginning of the summer.
“I know some are done and some are in the process and some haven’t started yet,” said Reitz.
Even if storage space did become tight, Corn said, producers could store some of their product outside in bins until the cold weather approaches.
“If we don’t get any hard freezes, a lot of that (onions stored outside) will be OK,” said Reitz.
Paul Skeen, the president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, said he doesn’t believe there will be a shortage of storage space.
“With yields being down like they are, that will help,” said Skeen. “We got a good crop and it looks good, it’s just not as big.”
In 2016, farmers harvested 1.7 billion pounds of onions in the Treasure Valley, making the region the No. 1 onion production area in the U.S.
Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.