OSU Onion Variety Day impresses visitors

Clint Shock, director of the Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station, at the station's annual Onion Variety Day on Aug. 28.

Rows, stands and bulbs looked great by most accounts at Onion Variety Day, pleasing the Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station officials who hosted the decades-old event Aug. 28 south of Ontario.

Onions, with their shallow root systems and tendency to sulk if they don’t get just the right amount of water at the right time, can be tough to grow. Good weather and irrigating conditions this year benefited the region’s sizable onion crop — including the 50-plus varieties in the field trials at OSU-Malheur.

Planting was on time and in line with long-term averages in contrast to last year’s late, wet start following heavy snow. This year’s weather also was close to normal, except for May’s higher-than-average number of ideal growing-degree days with low and high temperatures from 50 to 86 degrees, respectively, said Erik Feibert, a research assistant. That made May ideal for onion plant growth.

Conditions stayed mostly average afterward, he said. July heat was considerable but not excessive, “so I think that really pushed things ahead.”

Onions have been maturing on time this year after being late to mature last year following the weather-related planting delays, Feibert said.

Two plantings of Vaquero onions near the Oregon-Idaho border will produce the second-highest total yield and bulb size ever, slightly behind results from 11 years ago, he said. Vaquero is a well-established “long-day” onion that matures toward the end of the season.

Seed companies enter onion varieties in trials at the experiment station, which has been doing the trials for more than 40 years.

Clint Shock, the station’s longtime director, said the research fields this year contain 56 full-season onion varieties plus about eight for transplant and several for early harvest.

Soil conditions were ideal this year, he said. Rain wasn’t sufficient to get onion stands well-established in some locations, but stands have looked good in drip-irrigated fields. Stands can be harder to establish at the experiment station due to its heavy soil that compacts easily, he said, but they look good this year.

Onion growers planning their production strategies generally are best served by looking at how varieties performed over three or four years, rather than focusing on how they look at a given time or compared to a year earlier, Shock said.

“Varieties vary in performance year-to-year,” he said.

Dave Whitwood of Caldwell-based seed producer Crookham Co. liked what he saw in rows of White Cloud onions — one of the earlier maturing long-day varieties — including their nice globe-like shape.

“The White Cloud has performed quite well, as have the whites in general,” he said.

Brent Wilcox attended from New Zealand, where his company, A.S. Wilcox & Sons, is based. Many varieties he saw don’t grow in the Southern Hemisphere.

“The crops look spectacular in terms of size and condition,” he said. He also liked the cultural practices and irrigation approaches he saw.

Onion harvest got underway in mid-August in southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. Shock said it should conclude around the first week of October unless a wet September delays it. Yields have been excellent so far, he said.

Pests and diseases have been kept at bay for the most part, helped by warm conditions in May, and water supply and irrigating conditions have been good, various Onion Variety Day attendees said.



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