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Federal Marketing Order 958 mandates daily inspections for IEO onions

A season of challenges has been faced head-on by the nation’s largest — and only — storage onion growing area with a federal marketing order, and the daily Federal-State Inspection Service continues to certify onions shipped by members of the Idaho-E. Oregon Onion Committee.

The IEOOC, which represents some 21,000 planted acres of Spanish Sweets and a harvest averaging more than 24,000 carlots each year, has operated under Federal Marketing Order 958 since 1957, and despite this season’s late planting, cold, wet harvest and October freeze, the mandate hasn’t changed.

ieo-overview-photo-potato-and-onions IEOOC Chairman Kay Riley, principal at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR, explained, “The marketing order established federal grade standards, and Idaho and Oregon state inspectors verify the state of the onions each day before they are shipped.”

The onions are certified to be in accordance with grade, size, pack and maturity requirements.

Riley went on to say harvest crews worked especially long days this year to get onions into storage as temperatures dipped, but he noted internal frost damage is difficult to detect. Marketing, he said, needs to be done with care by the individual shippers.

Summing up volume, Riley and fellow shippers in the IEOOC said, this season falls into the “normal” category. Herb Haun, principal at Haun Packing in Weiser, ID, and chair of the IEOOC Promotion Committee, said, “We’ve returned to an average crop. Last year we had more colossals and fewer mediums, and this year we have more mediums, fewer colossals and about the same volume of jumbos.

Grant Kitamura, managing partner at Baker & Murakami Produce in Ontario, OR, said during the third week of November that the area’s volume is down about 10 percent from 2018, but he called last year a bumper crop. Kitamura said in his opinion, Idaho-E. Oregon will have a “normal” season this year.

And as Thanksgiving approached and demand trended upward, the consensus of many shippers was that business was also moving along at a normal pace.

The coming year marks the IEOOC’s 64th anniversary, and the Committee now represents more than 300 growers and nearly three dozen shippers. It also holds the distinction of being the oldest onion marketing order in the nation, four years senior to FMO 959 governing South Texas (1961), more than three decades older than FMO 955 governing Vidalia (1989) and nearly four decades years older than FMO 956 governing Walla Walla (1995).

Its history is shared by the onion industry on in both states, with each side establishing a growers association in the mid-1900s and uniting in efforts during those formative years.

During the early 1950s the region’s growers were experiencing low prices and poor movement, which caused some producers to leave the industry altogether but brought others together for strength in numbers. In Oregon the Malheur County Growers Association was created, and in Idaho it was the Idaho Growers Association. Representing their states were two of the most influential onion farmers, the late Joe Saito heading up Malheur and Doug McGinnis presiding over the Idaho group. And the groups were the genesis for the marketing order and the marketing committee.

At www.usaonions.com, the committee declares a goal “to work with all segments of the produce industry to provide consistently sized onions and the best possible quality available.” Moreover, it works to “increase consumption of Idaho-Eastern Oregon onions through the use of promotional programs, education, advertising, and communications” by partnering with members “to create programs to entice buyers, creating a demand for mandatory-inspected Idaho-Eastern Oregon onions.”

The longevity of the marketing committee reflects not only its own history but also those of its member farms and shipping companies – many of which date back more than a century with the fourth generation of some families now at the helm.

Not surprisingly, the changes chronicled over the generations have been significant – in fact, remarkable. Archived photos posted by the Malheur Country Historical Society show early technology included horse-drawn plows and horse-and-buggy delivery of dry goods. Well into the 21st century, much of the region now irrigates with drip and utilizes GPS-guided equipment. Controls are handled remotely by mobile device. Fields are inspected via drones.

Inside the warehouses, technology has also evolved with the times and needs. Labor shortages have resulted in increased line capacity, which has also added to efficiency and quality control. Computerization and mobile device access maintain temperatures for storage.

In addition, delivery of yellow, white and red Spanish Sweets from the region will be enhanced through a multi-million dollar reload facility planned for the Nyssa area.