The National Onion Association’s new leader liked what he saw of the southeastern Oregon-southwestern Idaho growing region on his first visit.
Greg Yielding, NOA executive vice president and chief executive, spoke at annual grower meetings in Ontario, Ore., and toured the area in early February.
“When I went outside, everything smelled of onions, so I knew I was definitely in an onion area,” he said in an interview. “I was impressed.”
Yielding previously worked for the U.S. Rice Producers Association, Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council and the Arkansas Rice Growers Association.
At Greeley, Colo.-based NOA, he is replacing Wayne Mininger, who will soon retire.
Yielding believes onion growers, packer-shippers and processors should unite locally and nationally to make sure they have the best possible product — and in turn market it in an enthusiastic, yet data-backed, way.
“Everyone could be more involved in their business, and it takes everybody together to have a successful business,” he said.
In the long run, such cooperation can stimulate demand and help increase prices while strengthening an industry’s voice in the policy arena, Yielding said.
Onions are grown in half of the states. The industry worked with federal policy makers to include workable water-quality standards in the Food Safety Modernization Act and has been following trade, labor, transportation and other policies.
“Everybody can be involved with that,” Yielding said. “If you are in the industry, you can have a vote.”
An NOA group with representation from Idaho and Oregon plans to go to Washington, D.C., in late February.
NOA at the start of 2019 launched a campaign promoting the health benefits, adaptability and other qualities of onions. It uses platforms ranging from print to social media.
Growers, packer-shippers and processors “have got to be part of that as well” on their own, Yielding said. Maintaining a constantly updated marketing presence can benefit the individual entity and the whole U.S. onion industry.
“We definitely could do a lot more of that, more promotion,” he said. Promoting onions, whether to target increased demand in a sector or to raise awareness of health benefits, “is just going to help sell more onions for everybody. Everybody across the country benefits.”
In international markets, U.S. onions are subject to lighter tariff pressure than some crops, he said, due to where U.S. onions often end up — including Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
On the other hand, the U.S. exports just 6 to 8 percent of its onions “and it definitely could be more,” as prices and profitability stand to benefit, Yielding said. The U.S. onion industry does not export to China, “definitely a market we need to be in.”
The U.S. rice industry, with just a half dozen states producing meaningful volumes, found demand in China largely because import customers there found the product to be of high quality, and different.
“A lot of people said this would never work; you’re not going to sell rice in China,” Yielding said. “That’s why when you start out, you get the data to see if they are interested or not. We did.”
The U.S. has very high-quality onions, “and I saw very high-quality onions on the trip to Idaho and Oregon,” he said. “There is no reason we can’t compete anywhere in the world.”