Four generations live on this family farm in Oregon and Idaho. It is currently operated by the second and third generations, and Shay Myers is part of the third generation.
“My grandmother, Colleen Froerer, still does most of our receivables and payables. She and my grandfather began the operation in 1954,” said Myers.
His grandfather grew up on a dairy farm and was a Korean War veteran. He served in Korea, and the GI Bill helped him get started farming, working for his in-laws on their farm.
“In the early to mid-’70s my grandparents had help from two of their sons, Craig and Randy, and Craig returned to the farm full-time in the early 1980s. My uncle Craig and my mother, Robin Myers, are second generation,” said Myers.
From 1954 until mid-1980s the farm grew from 100 acres to 400, and by the early 1990s had grown to about 1,200 acres.
They started farming asparagus in 1992 for Seneca Foods. Two years into the program, Seneca moved its production to South America.
“Instead of tearing out our asparagus crops, my mom came back to the farm in 1998 and started a fresh-pack asparagus operation,” said Myers.
“In 2005, I returned to the farm. Our onion production at that point was about 200 acres. Today we grow about 1,200 acres of onions,” he said.
The farming operation is now 4,200 acres, he said, “and that growth was made possible because three generations were able to work together.”
There was a lot learned by generation one, and a lot of work done by generation two, and they were willing to let generation three come on board.
“Just coming on board is not enough. The older generations had to be willing to let us make our own mistakes and learn from those and work into the operation.”
The third generation consists of Chase (Craig’s son), Jake May (Craig’s son-in-law), Kirk Sessions (another son-in-law) and Shay Myers.
The farming operation revolves around onions with various crop rotations, including sweet potatoes.
“We are the only growers of sweet potatoes in the Northwest. The sweet potatoes are Chase’s program and this will be our fifth production year. It’s a great crop and fits well in our rotation as a fresh crop we can market alongside our onions and asparagus,” Myers said.
Their farm is among the top 10 largest onion grower-packer-shippers.
“We do all aspects of onion production and grow enough onions for 6 to 8 million people. Average annual onion consumption in the U.S. is about 19 pounds per person,” he said.
Most of their farm is in Oregon, but the packing facilities are now in Idaho.
“We made this move in 2017 after what came to be called ‘Snowmageddon’ when we got 4 feet of snow in eastern Oregon in 5 different storms. Roofs collapsed and we lost a significant portion of our infrastructure,” he explained.
“Our growing process is typical, but our packing facilities are novel. I started working here in 2006 in onion packing. At that time optical sizing — using cameras — was utilized, but we still had to hand-grade onions for quality. Today most of this is done with cameras. We take 21 pictures of every onion.”
Ten are external shots to see what the onions look like. Another 10 shots are done with Near-infrared (NIR), using a special camera that looks several layers into the onion.
“This allows us to see defects you wouldn’t see otherwise, such as translucent scales or molds hidden underneath the outer layers, or any off-color,” he said.
“The final picture is taken with a super-high-intensity light, to get an idea of what’s in the middle of that onion. This technology enables us to pack a nicer-quality onion for our customer,” said Myers.
Their operation has also gone from hand-stacking to robot stackers. Obtaining adequate good labor has become difficult, but these challenges spawn innovations to keep production going.
This farming family combines the wisdom of older generations with the innovations and ambitions of modern business, and values a good relationship with customers. They are committed to providing the highest-quality produce available, every day of the year.