Snake River Produce manager Kay Riley shows off some of the onions at his packing shed in Nyssa as employee Tiffany Cruickshank and her daughter Violet look on. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

NYSSA – There is a new onion packing facility on Idaho Street in Nyssa but the workers under its roof are part of a long-time local business.

Snake River Produce Co. began this onion season with a new $4 million facility.

“It’s pretty exciting and we are very satisfied,” said Kay Riley, Snake River Produce general manager. “We have a vision of what we are capable of and it was time to upgrade the technology.”

Construction on the new building began in May 2017 and while a few small items remain to be done, the majority of the facility is finished, said Riley.

The new 30,000-square-foot building includes an office floor and a large warehouse for shipping onions. The building also includes a new onion processing line. 

“We have five automatic baggers and four palletizers,” said Riley.

The line cuts down on labor costs, Riley said.

“The advantage of labor is as significant as the cost of labor,” said Riley. 

Snake River Produce, like all onion packing sheds across the county, faces the same issues with labor – a lack of qualified workers – that it did last year. 

The new line, Riley said, cuts down on the number of people needed to process and bag onions. 

Riley estimated the line saves about eight jobs and allows the firm to process more onions – about 40 to 50 percent more – during a harvest. 

“If we did not have this, we would really be struggling because of the lack of labor. Everybody that wants a job has one,” said Riley. Riley said historically his company has about 50 workers on its roster.

“During harvest, it goes up about 10 or 15 employees,” said Riley.

The new structure replaces buildings damaged during the winter of 2017.

 “We lost six buildings, including three that were leased storage,” said Riley.

Insurance and loans helped pay for the new building, said Riley.

Riley said the new building is a big deal for Nyssa.

“I think we are good for the town and we are providing jobs. I am very happy with how things turned out,” said Riley.

Snake River Produce has been in Nyssa since 1999. 

Jim Maret, Nyssa city manager, said he was pleased Snake River Produce decided to build in town.

“They are heroes. They chose to stay in our community and add to it rather than go across the river (to Idaho),” said Maret. 

Stuart Reitz, Malheur County extension agent, said the new investment by Snake River Produce in the wake of the severe winter was not unusual.

“It obviously cost people a lot of money. But partly because the onion industry is so valuable, people invested back into it,” said Reitz.

Onions are a large cash crop of Malheur County, generating as much as $80 million during a good harvest. 

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.