( Courtesy Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee )

Idaho-Eastern Oregon onions staged a comeback after wet, cold spring weather had complicated plantings, grower-shippers said.

“Overall, this year’s crop is looking great,” said Samantha Cypher, editorial and publicity specialist with the Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange Inc., which markets onions from the district. “The plants are both healthy and strong.”

The weather has been “much different” from years past, Cypher said.

“We were a month late in planting. However, once the seeds were planted, we have had a very steady growing season.”

The crop was almost caught up by the end of July, Cypher said.

“Now, we are about two weeks behind last year, but we don’t expect any gaps in supply,” she said. “On a positive note, we anticipate some big yields throughout the basin this year.” 

The crop has had a lot of catching up to do, said Dan Phillips, sales manager with Paytte, Idaho-based grower-shipper Central Produce Distributors.

“Overall, I think we’re behind the last couple of years, but we’re getting close,” he said. “We had a wet spring, so it limited guys’ planting, but so far this summer, it’s been a nice growing summer.”

The wet spring followed a mild winter — until about Feb. 1, when it started to “rain and rain and snow,” said Kay Riley, partner with Nyssa, Ore.-based grower-shipper Snake River Produce.

“We thought there would be a shortage of water until it started raining,” he said.

Then, the rain started and kept coming, Riley said.

“We had a 10-day to two-week period in mid-March to plant, and got about 75% done; the other 25% were kind of hit and miss,” Riley said. 

“So, that last 25% of the crop is delayed significantly and we don’t know (if) that’s going to work out.”

More rain came in May, although the conditions improved as summer dawned, Riley said.

Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Eagle Eye Produce beat the wet weather during planting season, said Marc Bybee, senior operations/productions manager.

“Our personal onion crop has been very fortunate and was planted on time and has not been affected by any severe weather issues,” Bybee said.

Weather problems weren’t evenly distributed, Bybee noted.

“Growers are typically optimistic, (but) there are some areas of the Treasure Valley which had wetter planting conditions which cause them to fall behind and seedling emergence to be irregular, so not everyone has the onion crop they would like,” he said. 

“Most growers understand that onion markets react to both situations regional and of the entire world, not just the U.S. or its neighboring countries, so there are many factors in play that could still significantly alter onion marketing.” 
Yields appear to be down compared to last year, Bybee said.

The Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion deal generally runs from August through April, and this year should start about on time, Bybee said. 

“I think we will start up similar to last season, but there could be some occasional gaps between our early and storage onions,” he said. 

“Overall, the onion’s bulbing (bulbs growing and sizing up) seems a bit slower than last season, but it is probably normal.”

Weather caused some planting delays at Hailey, Idaho-based ProSource Inc., said Corey Griswold, COO.

“Our early onions looked good — probably not as big — but we’ll have an ample jumbo crop on early stuff,” he said. 

“We should have a regular jumbo yellow. We always anticipate to have 15-25% mediums. We should be good on colossal. Supers are going to be kind of a challenge, unless late storage makes up some size. Onions aren’t going to get much size this year.”

Growing season has been good, he said.

“We’ve had some cooler temperatures early on, but we also had some pretty good wind events that slowed things down; now, we have pretty ideal growing conditions,” he said. 

“Our biggest fear is an extreme run of hot weather. We need 80-90 degree days and cool nights.”

Parma, Idaho-based grower-shipper J.C. Watson Packing Co. had a similar assessment.

“The crop we were a little bit late in sowing, but to date, we’ve had some very favorable growing weather,” said Jon Watson, president. 

“Our onions are still a little behind, but the plants are very, very healthy and our long-range forecast tells us we’ll have peak growing weather. We may make part of the size back. We won’t have last year’s size but we’ll have good supply of jumbos and moderate supply of super-colossals, enough to take care of business.”

Weather patterns have mimicked those in other growing regions, said Shay Myers, general manager at Parma-based Owyhee Produce.

“Just like the current growing regions, California and Mexico, have had wet conditions that delayed plantings or on growing conditions, we’ve experienced similar things,” he said. 

“Oddly enough, our weather patterns tend to duplicate what happens in San Joaquin Valley (in California), so we averaged between two and four and late on planting, especially on long-day varieties. We were too wet in spring, and that kept us from planting.” 

Then came “the wettest June on record, which kept the crops from growing,” Myers said.

“And we’ve had one of the coolest summers in the last decade, especially in Treasure Valley,” he said. 

The crop appeared to be 10-14 days late, Myers said.

“We’ve usually started by now,” he said.

Not all is gloomy, though, Myers said.

“Markets are high and the delay in the startup in the Northwest should allow for a clean transition from California and Mexico,” he said. 

“We will have good volumes and yields on mediums. The challenge is the long-term varieties, the long-day varieties.”

The chief problem for the long-day onions is the late planting, Myers said.

“That has translated into already-small sizes,” he said. “So, we’re seeing good stands and decent-looking onions, but they’re smaller and so have lower yields.”

The crops were shaping up at Wilder, Idaho-based Tamura Farms, said Chris Varuska, facility and production manager.

“Crops are fine; you have strong fields and a few that aren’t,” he said.


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