Growers pack up cold, damp 2019 onion season

Mother Nature dealt local onion producers a wet and rainy hand during the past few weeks creating a delay in the local harvest. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – Area onion producers and packers are nearing the finish line on a 2019 harvest noteworthy for its delays caused by cold and wet weather.

Friday, Grant Kitamura, the general manager and part owner of the onion packing firm Baker & Murakami Produce in Ontario, rushed to get about 150 acres of onions in during the weekend to beat a freeze Monday.

“We will get it done. We have three days to get them in but that’s not a problem,” said Kitamura.

Cold and wet weather descended on the valley off and on throughout the harvest and stymied work to bring onions in for many producers.

At the same time, many farmers are also trying to harvest beets and corn, said Stuart Reitz, county extension agent last week.

“There are still a good number of onions out there,” said Reitz.


Reitz said a recent spate of good weather helped producers.

“That’s been good in letting people run longer in the day. But it’s just gotten a little bit more hectic this year,” said Reitz.

Reitz said there are “still concerns about the quality after freezing conditions.”

“Everybody has a plan and Mother Nature tells you whether that plan is going into effect or not and this year she has not been too kind in terms of getting everything done,” said Reitz.

Reitz said yields may be down this year.

“And the size profile will be down. We will see more smaller onions,” said Reitz.

Larger, or jumbo, onions are often a sign of a better-than-expected crop and are worth more, said Reitz.

“Again, part of it is just dependent on the market you are going for. Processors tend to like larger onions for onion rings and stuff,” said Reitz.

Consumers also play a pivotal role in the harvest, said Reitz.

“There has been a shift and people tend to want smaller onions, something you can use in one serving as opposed to giant onions with half of it sitting in your fridge after making dinner one night,” said Reitz.

Shay Myers, general manager at Owyhee Produce, said he thought yields would be “better than expected.”

“But not better than our five-year average. We are probably only five to 10 percent over our five-year average,” said Myers.

Prices, he said, are not great.

“The market may be fine and fine means for the consumer, not fine for the grower. Prices are cheap and we have a saturated market at this point for whatever reason,” said Myers.

Part of the challenge for local producers and packers is the 2018 harvest was above average – with yields between 40 and 45 tons per acre – making any comparison to this year slightly skewed.

“Last year was a bumper crop,” said Kitamura. “It was exceptionally good.”

Kitamura said this year yields would be “average.”

“The early crop, those yields were off,” said Kitamura.

The 2019 season began late and a cold snap in early October – as harvest was cranking up – hindered local producers. The cold snap – over three days – stalled the harvest.

The temperature drop, said Reitz, was uncommon that early in the harvest.

“Just having those cold temperatures that early in October is unusual and the having so many onions still out in the field in mid-October is unusual,” said Reitz.

Normally, he said, farmers are “kind of winding down at the beginning of October.”

“We are almost to November now. That is later than typical. Not unheard of, but very, very unusual,” said Reitz.

The harvest has been tough, said Myers.

“It has been a very challenging year from planting through harvest and that challenging dynamic is beginning to be translated into the marketplace as well. So, challenges continue. We thought in the middle of summer the challenges were over and at harvest the challenge would be over. We are carrying the mantle of those challenges forward,” said Myers.

Kitamura said producers and packers “just got to get it done.”

“We are heading for the finish line. We can see the finish line,” said Kitamura.

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

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