ONTARIO — Onion growers from Oregon and Idaho, and others in the industry packed the Four Rivers Cultural Center, from stem to stern, Tuesday for the 59th annual joint meeting of the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Grower Associations.
There were nearly 60 vendors participating in the trade show, 10 more than in 2018, with some set up in the Collins Gallery and others in the foyer of the Meyer-McLean auditorium and the Cultural Center. The exact number of people attending was unavailable.
During the annual luncheon, two long-time Ontario-area farmers, Ray Winegar and Ken Teramura, were inducted into the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Hall of Fame.
While most of the grower sessions were focused on onion production, weeds and disease control, there was also an emphasis on marketing, along with the importance of trade.
“You to have to have marketing,” said Greg Yielding, National Onion Association executive vice president, in his remarks during the luncheon. “You have to promote your product.”
As part of the marketing there needs to be exports, as the onion industry will not survive just selling onions domestically, Yielding said.
“We have to have trade. We need fair trade,” he said. “We need to sell more onions in Asia than we do.”
With having 25 states where onions are grown, the onion industry has opportunity to have its voice heard in Washington D.C. on issues such as transportation, Yielding said. Of particular interest is the shortage of trucks needed to get product to market and the need to get people trained.
Yielding said there are two lawmakers from onion-growing states who are in key committee positions that growers should be working with to get their support.
On immigration, the issue for farmers is having enough labor.
Gina Greenway, from the college of Idaho, talked about costs incurred in growing onions versus prices paid to the growers in figuring what they need to stay in business.
It is important for growers to know what their break-even point is, Greenway said. Besides production, costs include seed, irrigation and fertilizer, there are costs for harvest, marketing, storage and property. Labor costs include general field workers, equipment operators and truck drivers.
While there will be high and lows in prices, trying to make up for the lows through volume does not work, she said.
Also, “Your job is not done at harvest. You have to be involved in marketing,” Greenway said.
As part of its marketing campaigns, Rene Hardwick unveiled the “Ninja Onion,” outlining the comparison between ninjas and onion. These include being adaptable and stealthy, as well as the ability to be used in many different ways, including as a hidden ingredient in recipes.