Business & economy

Vale grower sets his sights on new onion packing facility

Crews are already hard at work on a new onion packing shed owned by Jeff Bair on U.S. Highway 26. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Jeff Bair’s new business is hard to miss if you are driving down U.S. Highway 26 north of Vale.

Construction crews are busy building Bair’s new onion packing shed and line and a storage facility right off of North Road D between Vale and Willowcreek.

The local farmer and Nyssa native said he expects the new operation to be ready to go by August. 

“We have contracts that we have signed and we will start filling those contracts by September,” said Bair last week.

Bair said he began to ponder the concept of starting his own packing shed a few years ago.

“I always had it in the back of my mind. It’s been a process of a couple of years,” said Bair.

Last winter, Bair decided to move forward on his idea. He began to buy equipment including the new packing line for his company, Willowcreek Produce.

Creating his own onion packing firm will do two things, said Bair. First, it will fulfill one of his longtime goals to help out the local economy.

“I am trying to keep money more in the community,” he said.

Bair said his new venture would also slash transportation and onion packing costs.

“We are paying a lot of money in packing costs elsewhere. So, if we can make it work and build something for the farm as well we might as well do both,” he said.

Bair, who farms about 300 acres of onions, also said he will be hiring. He said he plans to employ nine to 10 people in the packing shed and “we will have to employ some office staff.”

Now Bair said he employs about 15 temporary employees and has a full-time staff of nine.

“We are trying to keep those (temporary) people employed year-around,” said Bair.

At least for the first year, Bair said, he would process mostly his own onions at the packing shed.

Bair said he is making a “couple million-plus” dollar investment. The packing shed, he said, will be about 23,000 square feet. According to county records, an adjacent storage shed will be 8,000 square feet. 

Bair said preparing his new business keeps him busy.

“There are a lot of unknowns, a lot of extra things besides farming full time to take care of,” said Bair. “So, we are just trying to put it all together, trying to vertically integrate this thing.”

“I am a little nervous, a little bit excited,” Bair said.

Bair, 38, is president of Bair & Sons, his farm operation covering about 2,600 acres across Malheur County. He said the firm farms across the valley, “all the way to Cairo Junction and out to Vines Hill.”

News tip or story idea? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

SUBSCRIBE TO UNDERWRITE VITAL REPORTING — The Malheur Enterprise increasingly relies on reader subscriptions to fund its operations. For $5 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news produced by a professional and highly trained staff. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.