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Onion Expert

PMA Fresh Summit 2015 - Why We Go, What We Learn

Ashley Narvaiz - Thursday, November 05, 2015

With close to 20,000 attendees, the 2015 Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit Trade Show held in Georgia broke records as one of the biggest expos to date in the produce industry. The true importance of PMA comes from this variety of participants, ranging from leading industry growers and shippers, marketing experts, and retail buyers – including those internationally. At Owyhee Produce, we have placed a priority on attending the various shows PMA has to offer and this year we expanded the group we brought with us. Read below to hear all about it!



“This PMA show was unlike any of the other eight I’ve attended – not only was it much more upbeat and active but instead of perusing booths alone, I had along members of my team who had never been to a show before. It shifted my perspective of the show, reminding me of how immense and overwhelming the magnitude of PMA can be. Not only is the produce industry incredible in size, but it’s built by a lot of hard-working people who get their unique products to stand out to businesses. I can’t wait for the PMA Food Service Show in Monterey, CA in July of 2016 where Owyhee Produce will be an exhibitor for the first time!”

- Shay (General Manager of Owyhee Produce)




“It was great to be at PMA with everyone in our group – to see everything through their eyes and perspectives. I think we walked around 11 miles the first day visiting just a portion of all of the booths. It was great to see old friends and to meet new ones I’d only spoken to over the phone. I truly believe that PMA is a necessity for anyone in the industry – it’s where you absolutely need to be!”

- Robin (Operations Manager)


  

            

“When we first entered PMA and looked down on all of the displays and banners that filled the massive room it was like a sensory overload compared to what we see in our valley. I walked away amazed at the endless opportunities that lie in the produce industry. Not only is the market huge, but it’s filled with really friendly people. I met a ton of vendors who were really excited about the products they had to offer and that’s what interests me about the industry - that personal interaction. PMA was an incredible and unforgettable opportunity to enter the world of produce sales for the weekend.”

- Keilee (Shay’s Sister/Receptionist/Little Bit of Everything)




“As a first-time PMA attendee, it was eye-opening for me to see the produce industry as a whole, compressed in one place. The show was incredibly large but simultaneously very well organized. From a communications perspective it was compelling to see the innovations companies are using to present their products to the public and great to meet the successful people behind nationally recognized brands. I’m excited to design our Owyhee Produce booth for the PMA Food Service show in July of 2016 and participate alongside the great people I met at the PMA Fresh Summit.”

- Blake (Marketing & Communications)


   

(last two photos courtesy of PMA)


Record-Breaking Harvest

Ashley Narvaiz - Thursday, October 08, 2015

Last weekend marked the earliest close to the onion harvest season in history. Never before have we been able to finish a season so quickly here in Nyssa, Oregon.  We owe it to the nearly perfect conditions that allowed the season to move steadily along.


Initially, ideal warm weather matured our onions quickly which allowed us to start our harvest season earlier this year, at the end of July. By starting earlier, and harvesting our early varieties sooner, we were able to harvest later varieties sooner too.


Additionally, harvest weather conditions were warm and dry – allowing three solid weeks of steady harvest with only a single day of rain. With no interruptions, the harvest progressed quickly without complications or damage from weather conditions. Now that ground harvest is finished, we will be supplying the market with our storage onions for the rest of our shipping season. Our onion fields will rest, or be planted with alternate crops to keep the soil healthy and ready for next season.


The valley is 1,300 loads ahead of last years’ numbers this time last year. This milestone season is a great indicator of seasons to come.

Watch our harvest video below!

Where the Asparagus Ends

Gabrielle Nelson - Wednesday, July 08, 2015

This year Froerer Farms had their longest growing season on record for asparagus. The Froerer family started growing asparagus in the 1990’s. During the past two decades the usual season had an average of 40 packing days, but this year Owyhee Produce fresh packed for 57 days. Farm Manager Craig Froerer said, “The crop started earlier because of warmer weather. The youngest fields are in their fourth year, and were heavily picked this year. In three years they will be in full production. Over the next three years [the asparagus’s] health and maturity will improve.” In other words there is an upward trend in asparagus which doesn’t show signs of slowing.

“All I equate [asparagus] to is a lot of hard work,” Packing Manager Robin Froerer explained. About 100 pickers harvested over 140 acres twice a day. For the first time ever Froerer Farms had to deal with a shortage of labor on the packaging side of business. Despite this set back the Owyhee Produce and IDA Spear merger has flourished. Since the January 2015 merger Owyhee Produce’s ability to provide benefits to their joined customers has increased. More employees are available to take customer calls and questions. Also, there are more employees to help with the logistics of shipping.

              This year Froerer Farms’ asparagus was enjoyed country wide: from Seattle to Florida. Some shipments traveled as far as Canada, but some produce always stays close to home. Local sales make any season better. “We’ve had great community and local support” Robin said. Because Froerer Farms sells to locals they reduce product waste. Also, Froerer Farms extensively gives back to the community that supports them.   “We have donated to every foodbank in the Treasure Valley,” Robin said, Froerer Farms has also donated to Meals on Wheels and nearby foodbanks in Star, Payette, Ontario, Nysa, Vale, and Parma. Some of the donated produce will also go to Portland Steve Morningstar from Western Idaho Community Action Partnership Incorporated (WICAP), said [Froerer Farms] has donated the most fresh produce of any local farm so far this summer. He is hopeful for more donations later. The asparagus, “helps families eat healthier and is a nice treat,” he said. WICAP has received asparagus from Froerer Farms since May. In June alone WICAP compiled 302 food boxes for 283 families. In addition to the food boxes Froerer Farms’ donations helped provided fresh produce to 405 adults, 220 children, and 95 seniors. Remarking on the end of this year’s asparagus season Craig Froerer said, “Production for the future looks very promising.” 

 

 

 

Late Season Onion Care Instructions

Blake Branen Rosencrantz - Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Over the last 5-8 years we have dramatically improved our ability to extend the storage-onion shipping season.  The combination of hearty storage varieties, cold storages, and sprout inhibitors means that many we can now supply onions from right here in Oregon for 10 months of the year.  However, with the advantage these better skinned varieties come with there are also a few characteristics that must be managed in order to minimize shrink and maximize profits.

Later in the season you may begin to see green specks in the center of the onions.  This little green speck is what we call an internal sprout.  This happens naturally as the onion goes through its life cycle and this is a very manageable issue.  If an onion is kept cool it will take, at least, several weeks for the internal sprouts to become external ones.

Here are a few pointers:

  1. Keep onions cool (35-45 degrees) (While these temps may cause a bit of translucency, don’t worry it will go away with just 12-24 hours at 45 or higher)

  2. Keep onions well ventilated, the more air the better (Our storages run 34-36 degrees and have constant air flow.)
  3. Keep onions dry (Our storages run 55-65% humidity.)

  4. If you have to choose between dry and warm or humid and cool….choose humid and cool

  5. Avoid sudden changes in temp as the papery skin will draw-in and hold moisture

  6. No room in the cooler, try air stacking the bags to allow air to reach the center of the pallet

  7. Plan on keeping onions for 3 weeks during the later part of the storage season… treat them a bit more like you might an apple.

Quick Onion Market Update

Shay Myers - Thursday, November 20, 2014

While there are reports of sluggish sales on onions nationwide, the numbers seem to indicate that not to be the case. That is to say the emotional response doesn’t match how we all feel. We feel like it is slow because we all have onions to sell and that is reflected in the prices we are willing to offer to move onions, at least yellow ones. Jumbo yellow onions are trading for $5.00-5.50 and mediums for about a dollar less than that. Jumbo and medium reds are holding their own and are trading for $6.50 and $5.00, respectively. Jumbo Whites are $12 and Mediums are $10.

 

What Is The Onion Market Doing?

Shay Myers - Saturday, September 13, 2014

As always, the weather, the market, and various parts of the business world can greatly affect the onion market. Here is the Onion Market update as of September 8, 2014:

 

Market: Packing is at full swing at most packing sheds here in the Northwest. While harvest is just beginning here in the Treasure Valley, Washington has been going hard for about a week.

 

Yields: Yields in Washington are about average somewhere in the 700-750 cwt range. Harvest is approaching the 25-30% completion at this point. Reds and whites are the bright spot in the market with prices in the double digits for whites with reds not too far behind.

Yields in Idaho/Oregon have been a bit light to start with, mostly as a result of IYSV and lack of water. Many shippers are offering smaller sized onions than what they are used to. This is adding some down pressure to the market, especially among the smaller sizes.

 

Freight: A continued lack of drivers continues to demand very strong freight prices. Prices are similar, at this point, to what they were during this time last year, but there is even less negotiation when it comes to rates. East coast rates for refers can be as high as $8-$8.50 for refrigerated trucks. If you are able, utilizing flat beds at this juncture in the season could save you as much as 15-20%.

Pea Seed Harvest

Ashley Narvaiz - Thursday, July 31, 2014

5-6 days prior to these pictures being taken, this field was full, lush, and green. Now, after the pea plants have been cut, placed in rows, and dried by our Oregon sun, they are ready to be put through the combine to separate the chaff from the seeds.  

 


Owyhee Produce partners with farms in the mid west to provide them with the pea seeds they need to grow peas in their fields. Our climate is not conducive to growing peas, and the midwest doesn’t have a climate that can grow great seeds. Each area has been able to use their climate to the best of its ability by partnering together for the best possible result.

 

Before running the combine over the field, the moisture level is checked using the above canister to make sure the seeds have a moisture content under 14%. Anything over 14% will lead to the seeds molding during transportation.

 

As the combine runs over each row, everything is picked up by the rotating feeder at the front. As soon as the chaff and seeds enter the machine, they begin a process of separation.  The rotating, back and forth motion within the combine shakes the chaff off of the seed. The lightweight chaff is pushed over the top and out the back of the machine, while the heavier seeds are kept and compiled behind the cab.

After making a full run and filling the combine, the seeds are transferred to a truck in the field. That truck is taken to our facilities and the product is put in bins to be shipped and stored in Ontario. The seeds go through a super fine cleaning and two tests, one for germination and one for purity. Its imperative that the seeds are able to reproduce a fresh pea variety, and that  the group of seeds are of one single variety. The seeds will then be re-grown and harvested as fresh peas next season. 



Water Situation in World’s Largest Onion Growing Region

Shay Myers - Friday, July 04, 2014

While California is short on water, as far as onions are concerned, it looks like they will not be short on supply.  Much like the case in many onions regions, onions are the number one cash crop and consequently are the last to go without water. 

 

 

 


Oregon and Idaho are in similar situations as far as water is concerned, although the NW is much further from harvest compared to California.  In the Snake River Valley that runs through Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho, there are thousands of acres left fallow this year.  That doesn’t mean there are no onions planted in valley regions though.  In fact, it is because of these fallow lands that many farms are still hoping to be able to finish their onion crop.  By taking water normally allotted for these fields that are not being irrigated, they are hoping to finish their onion crop.  It is not so much a question now of the quantity of water available to these farmers, instead it is a function of the length of time that the water will be flowing for irrigation.  Some estimates are saying July 27th others are speculating water availability until August 10th.  It doesn’t seem like much, but the 14 days in difference between the 27th of July and the 10th of August will literally make or break the onion crop on thousands of acres.   


Transportation is currently a major issue and will continue to be a MAJOR challenge for the foreseeable future.  Reefer rates from California to East Coast locations are as high as $9,000 -$10,000 and even more so are hard to find.  Railex is helping to alleviate some of this pressure for those that can use its service.   

   

Prices have firmed up significantly on all colors and sizes over the past 2 weeks.  This is due in part to the Imperial Valley finishing up and reduces the number of shippers with product available for shipment.  July is traditionally the most expensive onion month of the summer with low double digits quite common.  It looks like this may be the case this year as well, but only time will tell.     

The Art of the Onion Contract

Blake Branen Rosencrantz - Thursday, June 05, 2014
For those who don’t deal with onions on a daily basis, onion contracts can seem like a foreign concept. We’d like to share our knowledge of the onion market so that you can have a better understanding of the benefits contracts offer – for your day-to-day business and your bottom line. Shay Myers, a local Grower/Shipper, and John Vlahandreas, a Veteran Onion Buyer, answer the FAQ’s regarding contracts based on their years of experience:

 

When is a good time to contract?

Shay- The best time for a customer to come to me for a contract is a month or more before my planting season even starts. There are many ways to grow an onion: you can focus on size, single centers, storability, sweetness, pungency, duration of season, or any other variable. If I know what to grow and how to grow it, I can assure the best results for my customers. That is why buying from a true grower/shipper/marketer is so important. While custom packers have volume, they have little control over the growing process.

 

John - Know what your customer’s needs are and what they are doing with their onions. Some may need onions more suitable to food service and others to the retail market. Knowing when to switch from old crop to new crop is also key. Contracts should be setup a month before the start of planting. This will assure the most consistent and competitive pricing. Contracting without the outbound business there is a gamble, but if you have committed customers you should contract year round.

 

 

Who should contract?

John - If you are in food service, processing, or other areas with consistent outbound pricing you should contract; anything with a structured retail price. Worst case scenario you should be at least 50% contracted. This will help hold you average and protect you in high and low markets.

 

Shay - I agree with John on all points except one. History has shown that the average “spot market” prices are $1-1.50 higher than the average contract price. So if you are going to error, error on the side of a contract. On average you will come out a winner. Also take into consideration that if a contract is higher than the “spot market” you are usually talking about $.50 to $1.50. On the other hand, if the “spot market” is higher than the contract you may be talking as much as $10-$15! See the graph below for a clear picture of the savings.

 

With whom should you contract?

Shay - As a Grower/Shipper, of course I think you should contract directly with the grower. Working directly with the grower you can get your onions grown the way you need them, especially if you go to them early. If you contract with a “custom packer” you won’t have the same type of control. They will bring onions in from many different growers, almost all of whom are looking at maximizing their yields, which may have an impact on your quality and length of shelf life.

 

John - Contract with the person you are the most comfortable with. You may wish to contract with a larger company because they will have more shippers to turn to cover a contract. It may also be smart to split up your contracts. You could do one with a marketer (broker) and one directly with a shipper.

 

Why may onion contracts be more important than contracts for other agricultural commodities?

John - Onions are used in large volume across the country. Onions have a tendency to go up and stay up, unlike leafy items that go up in price, but quickly come back down. A contract will give you a steady control over the price of your onions so you don’t lose money in a time of high fluctuation.

 

Shay -Onions are not like other commodities, they are sold on a world market. Weather, draught, and disease in places thousands of miles from the USA can have dramatic impacts on the market here in the USA. On the other hand, commodities that can’t be shipped across entire oceans, and are destined to be sold domestically, tend to be less volatile over the long- term.

 

 

Some would argue that following a year with high prices, that it is a wise time not to contract as farmers like to “chase money”, but with onions that isn’t always a wise move. Like other commodities, the down swing on onions may be 20% when compared to the spot market, but the upswing can vary from many other commodities. Instead of seeing just 20-40% on the upswing of the market, as is generally the case with ag commodities, it is not uncommon to see increases of 200% or more when it comes to onions. In other words if you don’t have a contract, it doesn’t take long to wish that you did.





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