( Courtesy Eagle Eye Produce )

Though “normal” likely would be the last way one might describe 2020 across the produce industry, thanks to the new coronavirus, onion suppliers across the Idaho-Eastern Oregon region say they can at least expect some normality in their crops this year.

“The Idaho-Eastern Oregon 2021 crop is expected to have exceptional quality this season,” said Herb Haun, owner of Weiser, Idaho-based Haun Packing and promotion committee chairman of the Parma, Idaho-based Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee

“Most all acres were planted within normal timeframes and the weather this summer has been nearly ideal.”

Hot weather arrived in July, which served to help the onions “finish well,” Haun said.

He added that some of the region’s growers started harvesting in late July, and the area as a whole likely would be “full steam” by mid- to late August. 

That’s a normal timeframe, he said.

The region generally starts shipping early varieties and, in September, the storage varieties shipments will start, Haun said.

Yields should be in the normal range, as well, Haun said. 

Idaho-Eastern Oregon typically ships between August and April, with some shippers going into May, Haun said.

“The crops in Idaho-Eastern Oregon are on track for harvest, with early onions currently being harvested and storage crop onions to follow in August,” said Mackenzie Mills, account manager with Bancroft, Wis.-based RPE Inc., which supplies onions out of the region. 

“Over-winter yellow and red onions are presently available from a couple growers in the basin.”

As of July 30, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 50-pound sacks of yellow hybrid onions out of the Columbia Basin in Washington and the Umatilla Basin in Oregon were $9-10 for colossal; $8-9, jumbo; and $10-11, medium. A year earlier, the same product was $15-17 for colossal; $13-16, jumbo; and $10-12, medium.

What that means, as Idaho-Eastern Oregon’s season kicks in, is anyone’s guess, particularly this year, said Cameron Skeen, partner with Ontario, Ore.-based grower-shipper Baker & Murakami Produce Co.

“With the amount of uncertainty we are living with economically each and every day, it creates all sorts of feelings in regards to what may happen this marketing season,” Skeen said. 

“I don’t know if anyone can accurately predict what the next eight to 10 months will bring.”

And, he said, that follows a “rough go” for the 2019 crop. 

“Mother Nature dealt us some heavy blows both at planting and harvest,” he said. “On top of that, we had the pandemic outbreak in the spring, which really hampered our ability to move product timely.”

At Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms, plants were “about the same” as in previous years, said John Vlahandreas, onion program director.

“Weather has been ideal so far, so (we) are seeing some early onions being available in the Treasure Valley,” he said. 

Most shippers will be in about Aug. 10, which is normal, Vlahandreas said.

“If the weather holds, we should have a bumper crop coming, but that is really too early to tell,” he said. 

“So far, it looks like we will be in good shape for a late run through April.”

He did add a caveat.

“Last year the weather turned cold literally overnight and damaged some of the onions that were destined for the latter part of the season,” he said.

Baker & Murakami’s Skeen said 2020 provided a “fairly traditional” growing season through late July.

“Onions were planted in their normal window and, other than some higher-than-normal rainfall in May and June, things have been fairly normal based on historical growing degree days.”

Last year, volume was down due to the harsh harvesting conditions caused by numerous hard freezes, Skeen said.

Things seemed a bit more optimistic this year, Skeen said July 27.

“As of today’s date, we are anticipating normal volume — just like we were last year at this time,” he said. “We still have quite a bit of race to run, and anything can still happen.”

Baker & Murakami started packing around Aug. 3, which would be within its normal timeframe, and expected to finish in late April, Skeen said.

The crop was looking “very nice” at Parma, Idaho-based Snake River Produce Co. LLC, said Tiffany Cruickshank, transportation manager, who also fills a sales and marketing role.

“Weather has been near ideal with very healthy fields and we anticipate beginning harvest in approximately three weeks, which is fairly normal,” she said in late July. 

Snake River Produce traditionally ships from August to April, but this year’s pandemic affected the end of the company’s 2019-20 season, with a “sudden drop-off of demand,” Cruickshank said.

“I do anticipate our 2020 crop to be on time and continue through the traditional season,” she said.

The growing season in eastern Oregon has been “ideal” for Idaho Falls-based Eagle Eye Produce, said Dallin Klingler, marketing/communications manager.

“We have had mild temperatures and a lot of sun,” he said. 

Eagle Eye started planting in early March and began harvesting in the first week of August, which is on schedule, Klingler said.

“Our volume and acreage have remained stable, and we’re expecting a great yield, quality, and size from this year’s crops,” he said.

Corey Griswold, CEO at Hailey, Idaho-based ProSource Inc., said its crop was looking “exceptional” and that the company anticipates “a consistent size profile across the board.”

Timing appeared to be normal, “and our fields and varieties are staged for harvest according to our marketing and storage needs,” he said. 


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