0731_CP_MW Walla Walla harvest 4

New packaging promotes the rose Walla Walla sweet onions, which make up less than 10% of the total crop.

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — The Walla Walla sweet onion harvest passed the halfway mark this week.

Yields are average to above average, said Michael J. Locati, chairman of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee.

Harvest began June 15 and will finish in mid-August. Planting of next year's crop will begin in September.

Demand for the sweet onions has remained steady despite COVID-19 concerns that have hurt commodities that rely on foodservice outlets such as restaurants.

"Fortunately for us, the Walla Walla is more of a retail onion and not a foodservice onion," Locati said. "We didn't see as dramatic of a hit. Our retail stores are still promoting our onion and people are still shopping at the grocery store and choosing our onion."

The state has required farmers to make adjustments for labor, including sanitation, masks, social distancing and training.

"It's a big deal, we understand," Locati said. "It's not cheap to do, either, so it does add to the cost of production."

Walla Walla sweet onions are grown by 10 farmers on 500 acres in Walla Walla County and a small part of northeastern Oregon. 

Walla Walla sweet onions are protected by a federal marketing order designating the production area.

Fall planted red Walla Walla sweets, called rose, are also being marketed with the regular sweets. Locati estimates they're less than 10% of the total crop. 

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