A blazing hot summer has led to early arrivals for some Idaho and eastern Oregon onion growers.
 
“We’re 10 days ahead of schedule,” Chris Woo, sales manager for Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Murakami Produce, Ontario, Ore., said Aug. 6, three days after the companies’ harvests began. 
 
“It was hot. We had triple-digit temperatures for two weeks. That forced the onions to mature faster than usual.”
 
The hot temperatures did not adversely affect the crop, said John Vlahandreas, onion sales manager for Wada Farms Marketing LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
 
“Quality has been great,” Vlahandreas said Aug. 11.
 
Wada started its harvest July 28, more than two weeks earlier than usual. Vlahandreas said there were more medium-sized onions than normal in the first few weeks of harvest, but he said sizing should improve as harvest progresses.
 
Vlahandreas said acreage and volume in the region should be similar to last season. Idaho and eastern Oregon growers plant more than 20,000 acres each year, producing roughly 1.4 billion pounds of onions. 
 
That acreage includes about 1,650 acres of red onions, and more than 500 acres of whites. The balance — and the vast majority — is yellow onions, Woo said. 
 
Although the region is expecting a crop similar to last year’s, growers are hoping for better returns. The 2014 crop ran into plenty of competition because multiple growing areas — foreign and domestic — experienced bumper crops. 
 
It didn’t help that dockworkers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union staged a slowdown that clogged West Coast ports for months, slowing export shipments and forcing too much volume onto the domestic market, said Paul Skeen, owner of Skeen Farms Inc., Nyssa, Ore.
 
Skeen said his company began this year’s harvest in early August, and the market started at $14 for 50-pound bags of jumbos. On Aug. 13, he said the price had dipped to $10-12.
 
“We can make money at that price if it stays there,” he said. 
 
“Things look good. We had record heat, but we escaped it as good as we could.”
 
Skeen said yields could be off slightly because of the extreme temperatures. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing for growers, whose harvests initially overlapped with California and New Mexico.
 
“There are several growing regions shipping at the same time,” said Shay Myers, owner of Owyhee Produce, Nyssa. 
 
“That makes marketing a little problematic.”
 
Myers said one of the advantages of buying from Idaho and eastern Oregon is that the region’s massive supply ensures consistent supply from August through April. Washington is the only domestic growing area with more acreage and volume.
 
“Once customers switch, they don’t have to be worried about issues with things like shorts or sizes,” he said.
 
Myers said Aug. 10 that Owyhee started its harvest July 27, and the company already was shipping colossals and super colossals. Reds were expected to begin harvesting by mid-August, he said.
 
Although iris yellow spot virus has been reported as a potential problem in some areas of the Northwest — including Washington’s northern Columbia Basin — Idaho and eastern Oregon growers said the virus did not appear to be a big issue for them this season.
 
“We have had less evidence of iris yellow spot virus this summer than we have had in the last couple of years,” said Kay Riley, general manager of Snake River Produce Inc., Nyssa. 
 
“It seemed like thrip control was more effective this year. We are cautiously optimistic with the good market we have right now and the potential for good export.”