NYSSA, Ore. — The Idaho-Oregon onion industry has managed to dispose of virtually all of the estimated 100 million pounds of onions that were lost this winter when dozens of sheds collapsed under the weight of unprecedented snow and ice.
Both states extended their deadlines for disposal of cull onions from March 15 to April 15 this year and most of the onions were properly disposed of before that date, officials in both states said.
With the deadline looming last week and a lot of onions still not disposed of, the state of Oregon gave the Lytle Boulevard landfill in Malheur County emergency permission to build another trench to handle the onslaught of culls.
“They significantly ramped up (the amount of onions they were taking) and pretty much everything is disposed of at this point,” Lindsay Eng, director of certification programs for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said April 20.
The onion maggot, which is frequently found in piles of cull onions, can devastate onion and other vegetable crops. Both states require culls to be properly disposed of by March 15 so they don’t spread to the new crop.
Cull onions can be disposed of in landfills or pits, by discing or plowing them into a field, feeding them to livestock or by chopping or shredding and cultivating them into fields.
The states’ cull onion rules affect growers and packing sheds in Malheur County, Ore., and Ada, Canyon, Gem, Payette, Owyhee and Washington counties in Idaho.
If weather delays disposal, cull onions must be treated with an Environmental Protection Agency-labeled insecticide.
Disposing of 100 million pounds of onions was no easy task, said Casey Prentiss, an ODA field operations manager in Ontario who worked closely with the industry.
“It’s kind of a minor miracle that we were able to get that amount of onions disposed of,” he said. “It’s been quite a feat.”
Across the border, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture has investigators in the field following up with growers and processors to ensure they have properly disposed of their culls, ISDA Communications Director Chanel Tewalt told Capital Press in an email.
“Given the extreme weather this winter, it was important to provide additional time for onion disposal but that flexibility has to be balanced with the recognition that mitigating pest hatches is a significant concern,” she said. “We are working in concert with industry to balance the need for disposal with their ability to dispose of culls due to weather conditions.”
Violators can be fined up to $10,000 but the ISDA’s goal is to work with the industry to address the issue and avoid an onion maggot outbreak, Tewalt said.
“Idaho agriculture has had a very difficult winter and we are looking for mutually agreeable solutions and compliance with the cull onion rule,” she said. “However, enforcement options are available if needed.”