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Workers handle onions at Baker & Murakami Produce in Ontario, Ore. Growers are seeking helping in plugging a gap in the inspection requirements for imported onions.

The USDA's plan to eliminate a marketing order for south Texas onions could hurt growers in Oregon and Idaho.

Growers in south Texas voted earlier this year to drop the marketing order, which required imported onions to meet the same standards as U.S.-grown onions.

If the USDA drops the marketing order it would open a time gap when inspections are not required for imported onions.

The result, Oregon and Idaho growers say, would be an even bigger flood of imported onions than is already hitting the U.S.

Shay Myers, CEO of Owyhee Produce in Parma, Idaho, said the volume of onions coming into the U.S. from Mexico already is up by double-digit percentages in the past year.

He said U.S. producers must absorb higher costs compared to foreign growers.

Kay Riley, general manager of Snake River Produce in Nyssa, Ore., said USDA Aug. 31 showed onion shipments from Mexico to the U.S. were up by more than 47% year to date.

“We are being dramatically impacted already with grade standards, let alone onions coming in without them,” he said.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have told USDA that the elimination of the federal marketing order for south Texas onions would only make the problem worse.

The senators, both D-Ore., sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressing Federal Marketing Order 959, which authorizes quality and packing regulations on onions grown in south Texas. Producers there voted earlier this year not to renew the marketing order.

But the senators say eliminating the marketing order would create a gap in the inspection requirement for onions imported into the U.S.

For example, onion producers in southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho operate under another Marketing Order, 958, which authorizes quality regulations, packing and labeling standards for onions grown in the region as well as for imports.

But the Oregon and Idaho marketing order does not cover all of the region's marketing year, allowing imported onions into the U.S. without inspections. The requirements of the Texas marketing order, 959, filled that gap.

“Removing Marketing Order 959 opens the door to imported onions being allowed to flood the U.S. market without the protection of the close monitoring, regulation and inspection that will still be required of U.S. onion producers,” the senators wrote.

Currently, from March 10 to June 4 of each marketing year, imported onions except for Pearl and Cipolline varieties are subject to the standards of the south Texas order.

But from June 5 through March 9, and for the entire year for Pearls and Cipollines, imported onions are subject to the Oregon-Idaho order.

USDA proposes to remove the requirements Marketing Order 959 places on south Texas onions, including the March 10-June 4 compliance period for imported onions.

Thus, all but two varieties could be imported without quality and grade regulation from March 10 to June 4, a period that includes part of the Oregon-Idaho marketing season.

Wyden and Merkley have requested USDA to reinstate Marketing Order 959 or extend its standards though a different method such as applying Marketing Order 958 year-round.

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