CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — Two major onion packing sheds are moving from Oregon’s Malheur County to Idaho.
Golden West Produce and Owyhee Produce, both located in Nyssa, Ore., have taken out building permits to construct packing sheds and several storage facilities across the Snake River in northwestern Canyon County, Idaho.
Golden West Produce is one of the largest of the 29 packing sheds in the Idaho-Oregon onion growing region and Owyhee Produce ranks in the top third.
Golden West had been planning to move its onion packing operation to Idaho in the next three to five years and Owyhee Produce had been seriously considering moving to Idaho.
Officials from both companies said the heavy damage their businesses sustained this winter was the impetus for the move happening sooner rather than later. Both companies lost main packing sheds and several storage facilities when roofs collapsed under the weight of snow and ice.
“We had some big decisions to make and we had been contemplating going to Idaho anyway,” said Owyhee Produce General Manager Shay Myers. The damage “really forced the opportunity upon us.”
Golden West built a refrigerated onion storage in Idaho last year and had planned to move its onion packing operation to Idaho within the next five years, said Troy Seward, CEO of sales.
“The impetus (for speeding up the move) was when we lost our packing facility and several storages this winter,” he said.
There are 16 onion packing sheds in Idaho and 13 in Malheur County, Oregon.
Several onion businesses have in the past told Capital Press that Oregon’s much higher minimum wage was pushing them to seriously consider moving to Idaho. But Seward and Myers said that didn’t play a major role in their decision.
“The minimum wage issue is ... definitely something we keep an eye on but it wasn’t the primary reason we moved to Idaho,” Seward said.
He said Golden West is experiencing growth and a lack of room for expansion at their Nyssa premises is what ultimately drove the company’s packing operation to Idaho.
Myers said Oregon’s rules and regulations are more onerous to businesses than Idaho’s and that is ultimately what drove Owyhee Produce across the river.
Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, said Oregon has not been as friendly toward agriculture as Idaho has in the past but he’s hopeful that could be changing somewhat.
After visiting the region in February to view this winter’s heavy damage, Gov. Kate Brown ordered state agencies to cut through red tape as much as possible to speed the rebuilding process for onion businesses and others who suffered heavy damage, Skeen said.
And a proposed bill co-sponsored by House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who visited the area last summer at Skeen’s request, would create a special economic development region in Eastern Oregon with the goal of helping Oregon businesses there compete fairly with their Idaho counterparts.
“At least they are trying to help,” Skeen said. “They ... are trying now to change this around and I am hoping we can keep the number of businesses moving from Oregon to Idaho to a minimum.”