NYSSA, Ore. — A proposed major rail reload facility in Eastern Oregon that could greatly help the region’s onion industry is on track to be built within three years.
The region’s onion shipping companies face constant transportation challenges. Industry leaders say the problem is getting worse and the reload facility is sorely needed.
“Transportation is a chronic problem for us (and) it’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it right now,” said Kay Riley, manager of Snake River Produce, one of 30 onion shipping companies in southwestern Idaho and Malheur County, Ore.
Riley said the planned reload facility is so important “it could keep us in business, and we could go out of business without it.”
The facility would allow shipping containers to be transfered between truck and rail. It could benefit a wide range of agricultural commodities grown as far away as southcentral Idaho.
Most onions produced here are sold to markets on the East Coast. Shippers must currently truck them 216 miles west to the nearest reload facility in Wallula, Wash, before they begin their journey east.
Eliminating that step will reduce the cost of shipping onions, improve timeliness of delivery and possibly open new markets, said Grant Kitamura, general manager of Baker & Murakami Produce, the region’s largest onion shipper.
“This is a major game changer for onion shippers,” he said. “It will help us maintain our viability as an industry. Transportation has been a real issue for onion shippers in Oregon and Idaho for many years and it’s been getting worse and hopefully this will help us turn it around.”
Bruce Corn, an Oregon farmer, said the facility could markedly speed up delivery times to East Coast markets.
“It can result in a substantial savings in transportation costs and also be a much more reliable source of transportation,” he said.
The $5.3 billion transportation package passed by the Oregon Legislature this year included $26 million for a reload facility in Eastern Oregon. A 400-acre piece of land just north of Nyssa was recently chosen as the facility’s location.
The plan for the facility is for it to include dry and cold storage, said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, who is helping lead the effort to build the facility.
“All of a sudden, we become a regional location that can compete against anyone in the world,” said Smith, Malheur County’s economic development director.
The plan also includes building the infrastructure needed by food processors, Smith said.
“That way, agricultural food processors will have a one-stop location where they can produce and have a shipping hub right at their back door,” he said.
The biggest challenge now is making sure the facility is designed and built correctly, Smith said.
“I think our biggest challenge is expectation. Folks want this now,” he said. “We want to take our time and do it correctly, not do it quickly just to meet that expectation. This facility is going to be here for 100 years. Let’s do it correctly the first time.”