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Onion growers request $16 million in direct aid

noaThe National Onion Association sent a request to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting direct economic aid to America’s onion growers not to exceed $16 million in the wake of losing half of their market due to the pandemic.

Many onion growers grow onions for foodservice contracts, which are usually much bigger than onions bound for the supermarkets. That is to accommodate the bulk in which restasurants, and other foodservice establishments need to feed large crowds. When the nation’s restaurants, schools and other foodservice outlets were shut down due to the pandemic, it was an overnight stop on onion sales for many onion growers. Many were left with few options to dispose of their onions, and they had to either dump millions of pounds in piles to rot, or sow them into their fields.

These are not onions that the typical consumer wants, or even onions that consumer recipes accommodate. Typically, consumers — and retail outlets and even food banks — prefer smaller onions in two- and three-pound bags. If those bags were stuffed with a foodservice onion, you’d only be able to fit one or two onions.

"While we applaud the USDA’s recent $3 bilion Farm to Families Food Box program, it doesn’t necessarily work for most onion growers, who do not have large distribution networks at the ready to deliver the food boxes," NOA said in a statement. "And, the money that is granted will be eaten up in transportation costs, with little going back to the farmer, who has already outlayed a small fortune in implements and overhead to get the onions out of the ground."

The National Onion Association, therefore, proposed an onion-specific program, whereby the USDA pay assistance money directly to onion growers. Farmers would be paid $5 per 5O-­pound unit of onions for farmers who:

  • Have documentation they have had to dump deteriorated crops — because of lack of market and no other viable options — retroactive to March 16.
  • Are having to dump deteriorated onions at present.
  • Donate onions for use as livestock feed.
  • Who donate onions to food banks.

NOA also suggested that a USDA inspector should visually certify all documentation, lots, bins, etc. to ensure proper checks and balances to the program. The association also suggested penalties for those who would seek aid, but who have sold their onions on the market.

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