Snow damage to Idaho-Oregon onion industry nears $100 million

Dozens of onion storage sheds and packing facilities collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on January 27, 2017 3:27PM

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of onions were lost when this onion storage shed in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. About 50 storage sheds and packing facilities have been destroyed.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of onions were lost when this onion storage shed in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. About 50 storage sheds and packing facilities have been destroyed.

Buy this photo
A demolition machine clears 500,000 pounds of onions that were lost when a large storage facility in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. About 50 storage sheds and packing facilities have collapsed under the weight of record-setting snow in Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

Courtesy Photo

A demolition machine clears 500,000 pounds of onions that were lost when a large storage facility in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. About 50 storage sheds and packing facilities have collapsed under the weight of record-setting snow in Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

An overhead view of an onion storage facility in Nyssa, Ore., that collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. The Idaho and Eastern Oregon onion industry has suffered the collapse of about 50 storage sheds and packing facilities.

Courtesy of Shay Myers

An overhead view of an onion storage facility in Nyssa, Ore., that collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. The Idaho and Eastern Oregon onion industry has suffered the collapse of about 50 storage sheds and packing facilities.


NYSSA, Ore. — As much as $100 million in damages were caused when dozens of onion storage sheds and packing facilities collapsed under the weight of deep snows that have buried Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

About 50 onion buildings collapsed under the weight of up to 40 inches of snow that has fallen during the harshest winter in memory.

“It’s an absolute catastrophe,” said Shay Myers, general manager of Owyhee Produce in Nyssa. Three of the company’s storage sheds and the building housing one of its packing lines collapsed.

Myers estimated the total damage to the onion industry in southwestern Idaho and Malheur County, Ore., could be near $100 million.

The region’s 300 onion farmers and 30 shippers produce about 25 percent of the nation’s big bulb storage onions.

The damage is devastating. In many cases, it looks like a tornado tore through the buildings, said Partners Produce co-owner Eddie Rodriguez.

“They’re still going down as we speak,” he said. “Now, it’s just happening everywhere. The snow is heavy and there’s too much of it.”

Partners has lost four buildings, including its main packing line in Payette, Idaho, which will be out of commission at least seven months.

The lost production has pushed the prices shippers receive for their onions up dramatically. For example, the price for a 50-pound bag of yellow jumbo onions was around $3.50 before the collapses but is nearly $10 now.

“There have been a lot of sheds that haven’t been able to pack onions. That’s why the market’s gone up,” said Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association.

This region produces more than 1 billion pounds of Spanish big bulb onions annually, but the building collapses have claimed a good chunk of last year’s production. That’s because once the onions are exposed to the cold and freeze, they are no good.

Owyhee Produce alone lost 20 million pounds of onions when its buildings collapsed.

Snake River Produce in Nyssa lost the equivalent of 35, 40,000-pound truckloads of onions when four of its buildings collapsed.

“That’s peanuts compared to what some have lost,” said manager Kay Riley. “Everywhere you go ... there’s a building on the ground. It’s pretty dramatic.”

Onion industry leaders have contacted state and federal representatives to ask for help in finding assistance for the region. An estimated 150 farm- and non-farm-related buildings have been destroyed.

“I’ve personally seen at least 40 collapsed buildings, probably more,” said state Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario. “It really looks like they were hit by a bomb. It’s really shocking.”

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore., have asked the federal government to begin the process that would result in a federal disaster declaration for Malheur County and other Eastern Oregon counties impacted by the severe winter.

A federal disaster declaration would make farmers and other businesses eligible for low-interest loans, insurance relief and other disaster aid, according to a joint news release by the senators.

Rodriguez and others said it would probably take two to three years for the industry to totally recover and rebuild.

“It’s affecting all of us in the onion industry and beyond,” he said. “It’s a sad deal.”





Marketplace

Share and Discuss

Guidelines

User Comments