Onion quality ‘excellent’ as harvest crosses finish line

Onions have looked good so far this year in southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.

Capital Press

Onion quality, size and yield look good as harvest wraps up and storage sheds run full-speed in southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho.

Yields appear to slightly exceed long-term averages.

“Generally, things are quite good so far,” Kay Riley, general manager at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, Ore., said Oct. 19. “Harvest has been exceptional and size has been exceptional.” Quality and appearance also have been excellent, he said.

Quality looked unaffected by heavy rains Oct. 4 and 9 in parts of the region and a light frost early Oct. 15, he said. Most of the crop had been harvested before the frost, he said.

Internal decay can occur after about a month in storage, Riley said. More will be known later, but that does not appear to be an issue so far at Snake River, he said. The operation began packing in mid-August.

The region’s onion industry typically ships around 30,000 semi-truck loads of onions, and shipping as of Oct. 19 was about 2,200 loads ahead of last year’s volume, he said.

“We anticipate having a very good season,” Riley said.

Recent rain and frost likely did not reduce onion quality or yield, said Oregon State University Extension Malheur County Crop Agent Stuart Reitz.

When morning temperatures drop into the upper 20s, growers will wait until later in the day to harvest and handle onions — after any frost comes off outer layers — so they don’t bruise the vegetables, he said. Morning temperatures were around 28 degrees in the area early Oct. 15, “in some areas a couple degrees cooler.

“But the onions are sitting on the ground, so they get some additional heat from the soil,” Reitz said. “And if it doesn’t stay too cold for too long, they don’t suffer that damage.”

Last year’s late-starting season had below-average onion sizes and yields. The current onion crop looks much more like the 2016 crop, which was fairly large, he said.

Good skin color and size, and a high percentage of single-center onions good for processing are among onion characteristics seen this year, Reitz said. Mostly good growing conditions, with few stops and starts, helped overall quality and yield as well as centering.

“It seems like things are going into storage pretty well. You see onions moving, and guys are getting finished up,” said Bruce Corn, who farms between Ontario and Nyssa, Ore. He expects harvest in the area to conclude by the end of the month if conditions hold.

He said on Oct. 19 he would be surprised if earlier rain and frost affected quality, as “the stuff we see moving on the truck looks really good — well cured.” This year’s curing weather has been good, he said.

Nyssa-area grower Paul Skeen said his crop looks “excellent, probably the best I’ve ever seen. Quality and appearance and everything else.”

His harvest was largely completed before the Oct. 15 frost, as was much of the area’s onion harvest, he said. “A lot of onions were in before that happened, so the percentage that actually got some frost on it was pretty minute.”

Around the growing region, yields were good — substantially better than last year and slightly above the five-year average, Skeen said.

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