Since a big snow storm collapsed dozens of Idaho-eastern Oregon onion storage and packing facilities in January 2017, packers have been rebuilding their capacity.
One example of that trend is Partners Produce Inc., Payette, Idaho.
Eddie Rodriguez, owner of the firm, said the company has been busy building for the past 18 months.
“To date since our building collapse, we have built four new cold storage cellars with floor air, able to store over 25 million pounds,” he said.
Rodriguez said the buildings will help the company extend its packing season.
Adjacent to the cold storage facilities, the company has added a new 100,000-square-foot packing facility.
“It has got all the bells and whistles,” he said, noting external and internal defect sorting, automated baggers and automated palletization.
According to Rodriguez, the facility houses imported fully stainless steel packing line equipment from Wyma, Elisam, Ellips, Volm, and Verbruggen. The capacity of the new packing shed is designed for over 80 tons an hour.
The line will sort, grade and size within the tightest of specifications, he said.
“If the onions are showing decay — internal or external — the cameras are able to decipher and send the product to be packed into a No. 1 product or be sent to the processor,” he said.
The packing line is controlled by the operator’s iPad, he said.
“I can now view/change settings to my storages and monitor our onion line all from my iPhone or iPad,” he said.
The company is now able to run its packing line with 20 employees, compared with 50 employees for the previous line.
Marketing the onion crops of 35 local growers, he said the company expects to market about 160 million pounds of onions year-round, with 80% yellow, 15% red and 5% white.
Rodriguez said onions that don’t make fresh grade are sent to processors in Nampa, Idaho; and Payette.
The company manufactures a whole peeled onion as well as individual quick-frozen onions.
“We are currently expanding this operation and adding an additional 80,000 square feet, with 25,000-square-foot freezer storage,” he said.
The facility will have new top/tailing and peeling capabilities, new optical sorting of diced and stripped product, the latest in blanching technology and the company’s second tunnel freezer.
The IQF line will be a fully automated packing line with robotic arm capabilities and metal detection.
The whole line, expected to be finished early next year, will be able to produce product 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.