Business & economy

As onion harvest comes in, prices are up but yields down for Malheur County producers

NYSSA – Through the window that overlooks Owyhee Produce’s production line Friday morning, the signs of onion harvest were obvious.
Conveyor belts carried onions into red net bags held by workers. The workers waited impatiently as the bags filled and then, quickly and deftly, they tied the tops off. They then heaved the 50-pound sacks onto a growing stack on a pallet.
The local onion harvest is in full swing for producers and packers. Onion prices are at all-time highs but yields are down and onion sizes are smaller than usual.
Weather challenges that arose in the spring and continued through summer get some of the blame.

“I don’t feel like we have had break since the winter of 2016. Seems like we have not one normal season since 2016.”

–Shay Myers, Owyhee Produce

Sacks of onions stand ready to be shipped at the Owyhee Produce warehouse last week. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Myers said the prices are nice but “you really don’t get the windfall you appear to have when it is all said and done.”
Inflation hit, said Rodriguez.
“Yields are down across the whole Northwest. We are blessed, though, that the market is where it is and holding,” said Rodriguez.
Myers said the last four or five years have been hard on onion producers.
“I don’t feel like we have had break since the winter of 2016. Seems like we have not one normal season since 2016,” said Myers.
Quality of the onions, however, remains good, said Rodriguez.
“For the most part they are looking really good, they just didn’t size like a normal year,” he said.

James Larsen talks about the onion harvest at Owyhee Produce Friday. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Josh Frederick, general manager for Snake River Produce in Nyssa, said trucking prices are down slightly and availability is generally stable.
He said trucks to haul the onions – always a critical piece of the overall harvest success – usually take “a day or two” to arrive.
“Yesterday I loaded six trucks. Today we are on truck number 15,” he said Friday.
He said fuel prices recently dropped slightly and that helps with overall costs.
“We are still paying way above average then we did two years ago,” said Frederick.
Still, the price to truck a load of onions to New York dropped from last year, he said.
Last year, said Frederick, it cost an onion shed between anywhere between $12,000 to $15,000 a load to New York. This year it costs between $10,000 to $12,000 to ship to New York.

Work was fast and furious last week at Owyhee Produce in Parma as crews worked to move onions. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL).

Those prices could jump again though.
“It always tends to trickle upward once we get closer to the holidays. We start competing with other commodities around here and the price starts to move upwards,” he said.
The biggest challenge now, said Frederick, is “keeping up with demand.”
“There has been an incredible amount of demand that was needed out of the gate,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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