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More than 100 attend onion variety trial

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

More than 100 onion growers, seed dealers and other industry representatives attended Oregon State University's onion variety trial field day Aug. 26. The event provides participants a chance to judge 50 different onion varieties grown side by side under the same conditions.

ONTARIO, Ore. — Oregon State University’s annual onion variety trial field day has turned into one of the industry’s premiere and most important events.

More than 100 onion growers, seed dealers and industry representatives turned out Aug. 26 for this year’s trial, one of several being held this week in the Pacific Northwest.

Growers and dealers said the OSU event is their top destination since it is publicly funded and gives them an impartial look at how various varieties perform under the exact same growing conditions.

“Where they’re compared side by side … it gives you a direct comparison of one onion against the other,” said Scott Seed owner Walt Scott. “It’s really a great trial (because) these are unbiased results.”

“This is the standard. It provides a good place for us to look at all the varieties together (being) grown in one field,” said Rene Emch, global production specialist for onions for Bayer CropScience’s vegetable seeds division. “This is a very important event for the seed business in the Pacific Northwest.”

The 3-acre trial included 46 full-season yellow, red and white varieties and four early maturing varieties. Some of the onions were lifted from the field, while others were still growing.

The varieties are grown using both drip and furrow irrigation systems and participants can handle the onions and slice them open for closer scrutiny.

Since growers, buyers and vendors are seeing the same results, it helps them stay on the same page, said Oregon farmer Bill Johnson.

“This gives us a neutral place where we can all develop the same expectations about things … because they’re seeing the same things we are,” he said.

OSU researcher Erik Feibert said seed dealers and growers are interested in several characteristics, including yield, skin color, skin retention, size, uniformity, maturity and whether the onions have a single center as opposed to two.

They’re also interested in seeing how well the different varieties withstood pressure from the iris yellow spot virus, the industry’s main disease issue in this area.

Virus pressure in the region was low this year but it was heavy at the OSU experiment station, Feibert said, and that turned out to be a good thing for trial purposes since it provided growers and dealers an opportunity to compare how well different varieties resisted the disease.

Researchers sprayed heavily for onion thrips, which are a vector for the disease, but virus pressure was still heavy, Feibert said.

Johnson said the way most varieties handled the virus pressure was encouraging.

“This year they’ve had a lot of thrip pressure (and) the plants are weaker than we’re used to seeing,” he said. “And yet they had pretty good onion production and these onions sized up pretty well at the end.”

The red onions are much smaller than normal as a result of the virus pressure, Johnson said, “but other than that, I think we got pretty representative examples of what the varieties can do for us.”


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