Even without considering the potential change in water quality and testing rules set by the Food and Drug Administration, onion growers in the Idaho and eastern Oregon region have water concerns on their minds.
“Some portions of irrigation systems will run out of water this week, which is a month too soon. Normally, we have water available until the end of September,” Kay Riley, general manager of Snake River Produce Inc., Nyssa, Ore, said the last week of July.
Others agree the water stopped too soon this year.
“As spring and summer came, the water shortage started to rear its spout and shut down fields that could have been high producers in some areas, with no later water to finish off a field,” said John Vlahandreas, onion sales manager for Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC.
He said that despite similar acreage this year, yields could be down slightly as a result of the drought.
“Yield and overall shortage may be down due to hotter weather and less available water for fields to finish off,” Vlahandreas said.
Growers are still optimistic about this year’s harvest.
“For this year, Idaho has adequate water, and the Owyhee system has three different systems, of which the upper will lose its supply shortly. The others will be able to supplement out of the Snake River,” Riley said.
He said he hoped that will be enough to finish the season well.
“We anticipate concluding this year’s crop OK. We may feel some hurt in a few specific areas, and we’ll be desperate to have a good winter to build the storage back up in the reservoirs,” Riley said.
Riley said he estimates that all available water will be used for this year, and at capacity the reservoir should hold nearly a two-year supply, meaning an above-average winter snow and rainfall is essential for next year.
“Overall, we’re really looking at the long-term effects if we don’t get the rain we need. This year, only about 5% of the total planting looks to be affected,” said Shay Myers, general manager of Owyhee Produce, Nyssa.
Drip irrigation has been another savior for growers struggling with water supplies.
“Going to drip is a huge plus. It’s expensive but it regulates the flow of water better, and you can even run registered chemicals through the water system, which makes better onions. It increases the tonnage of production,” said Chris Woo, sales manager for Murakami Produce, Ontario, Ore., which packs onions for Potandon Produce, Idaho Falls.
Troy Seward, owner and president of Golden West Produce, LLC., Parma, Idaho, said drip irrigation can help in drought conditions, as well as with environmental concerns.
“We have continually trended toward the use of drip irrigation on our crop, as we realize the benefits of consistent yields while utilizing less fertilizers, pesticides, and virtually eliminating erosion,” Seward said.
He said 90% of the company’s crop is grown under drip irrigation.