By MITCH LIES
BROOKS, Ore. -- This year's wet spring and hot, dry summer has put a damper on onion yields. But excellent harvest weather and a good outlook for prices has growers smiling as they put the finishing touches on their 2012 harvest.
"You couldn't have scripted it any better," said Greg Bennett, a Western Oregon onion grower from Brooks. "Our yields aren't going to be as big as they were in years past, but the weather is outstanding for onion harvest."
"The weather has been lovely," said Kay Riley, an Eastern Oregon onion grower from Nyssa.
Riley also said his yields were down.
"I think the heat took its toll," Riley said.
"We had some tough weather right off the bat this spring, which reduced stands, and we had one of the hottest, driest summers on record," Riley said.
"But the quality is very good," he said.
Riley, manager of Snake River Produce Co., estimated his yields were off 15 to 20 percent.
In Nampa, Idaho, Clinton Wissel, president of the Idaho Onion Growers Association, described his crop as average.
"I would say the crop is fair in terms of quality and yield," Wissel said.
Bennett said his yields are fluctuating dramatically depending on field conditions. Highland onions were yielding more than 1,000 50-pound sacks per acre, he said. Onions in low-elevation fields stayed wet for much of the rainy spring and were struggling to reach 900 sacks.
As for prices, reports of poor crops in drought-stricken areas, reduced acreage planted to onions and strong export opportunities has growers optimistic they can rebound from a poor 2011 season when they struggled to break even.
Onions brought $1 to $2 below production costs for a 50-pound sack last year, Bennett said.
Growers characterized harvest timing as "about average," which Bennett said was surprising given the slow start to the season.
"With as late as we got them planted this spring, I'm really pleased we are able to harvest as early as we are," he said.