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SRP ‘very pleased with quality’ of ’21 onion crop

By
Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

Although yields are down between 10-20 percent in some fields and as much as 30-40 percent in others, Snake River Produce General Manager Kay Riley said quality of this year’s Spanish Sweet onion crop is quite good.

The Nyssa, OR, operation is shipping all three colors, and Riley said in mid-September, “We’re very pleased with the quality so far.”

snake river
Handling sales at Snake River Produce are
General Manager Kay Riley and Assistant
General Manager/Sales Tiffany Cruickshank.

Commenting on this year’s crop, Riley noted the Treasure Valley was hit by a succession of weather woes, including a cold, windy spring planting season and an unusually hot summer growing season that was compounded by smoke from Western fires. He said, “Our growers have as good a crop as anyone here in the valley. The size profile is down overall, but there are some supers and colossals, and those markets are very strong right now. We also have some jumbos. We think the volume is adequate, and hopefully the gap between mediums and jumbos will close a little.”

He added that conditions for harvest, which is expected to be finished Oct. 5-10, had been relatively normal, and most onions brought in up to mid-September were non-storage. “We’re getting ready to go with our storage onions in the next week or so,” Riley said.

Demand was good on the early onions across the board, and Riley commented, “Overall we will have good supplies on our reds. With whites we’ll have more than we normally do.” And he said the markets for the colors were strong.

Last year the company, like many others, pivoted to more retail during the COVID-19 lockdown; as of Sept. 10 of this year foodservice was continuing to see a solid uptick, and Riley said SRP planned to stick to its successful market formula of contracts, including some processors, as well as exports to Mexico and some retail.

The veteran onion man said the universal issues of transportation and labor affect the Treasure Valley onion industry. Transportation, he said, “is expensive and not easy, but it is available, and it could get worse. But so far it’s been better than I expected.” About labor, he said, “We need more people, but we do have a solid core. We’re spread thin because of harvest, though.

Riley also spoke out about the proposed termination of the South Texas Onion Marketing Order and its impact on the industry. The Texas marketing order failed to receive a two-thirds vote to retain during a 2020 referendum, and the USDA subsequently proposed termination.

“As I understand it, the USDA doesn’t have to do away with the marketing order even if it does away with the fees and assessments,” he said. “It can leave the grade standards.”

A written comment period has been established by the USDA, and all comments will be accepted until Oct. 4. They must be submitted to the Docket Clerk either by email, post-marked mail or online at https://www.regulations.gov/document/AMS-SC-21-0003-0001.

“We’re getting comments from across the industry,” Riley said, adding that “we have to adhere to grade standards.” He said, “It’s on us to extend it, and losing the marketing order potentially could be devastating in [to the Treasure Valley] a number of ways. Right now we can ship onions until June. If exports come in at certain grades and prices, we might have to go back to March [end of season] to make it financially viable for us.”

Riley also cited a political side to the issue, saying, “National security ought to be a food issue, and there’s no question the [trade] playing field is not even.”

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