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March/April 2014

Onion World Publisher Honored

ONION WORLD 8405 Ahtanum Road, Yakima, WA 98903

CHANGE SERVICE REQUESTED

Colorado and IdahoOregon Meeting Reports

Table of Contents

Onion World

30

Celebrating

Years!

Volume 30, Number 3

March/April 2014 4

8405 Ahtanum Road Yakima, Washington 98903 Telephone: (509) 248-2452 Fax: (509) 248-4056

www.o n i o n w o r l d .n e t Onion World Contacts

Idaho and Malheur Country Onion Growers Association Report

Fielding FSMA

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EXECUTIVE OFFICE

Columbia Publishing

Tyler J. [email protected] Managing Editor

J. Mike Stoker [email protected] Publisher / Advertising Manager Jeraleh Kastner [email protected] Production / Circulation Manager

Treasure Valley Onion Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame Inductees Include Onion World Publisher

Denise Keller [email protected] Field Editor D. Brent Clement [email protected] Consultant

EDITORIAL INFORMATION

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Strohauer Farms

18

Colorado Onion Association Annual Meeting

Colorado Grower Finds Niche in Midst of Water Shortage Colorado Onion Report

Onion World is interested in newsworthy material related to onion production and marketing. Contributions from all segments of the industry are welcome. Submit news releases, new product submissions, stories and photos via email to: [email protected] com, or call (208) 351-7032.

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Payments may be made by check, Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Subscribe online at www.onionworld.net or call (800) 900-2452. Email address changes/corrections to [email protected] or mail to Onion World, 8405 Ahtanum Road, Yakima, WA 98903.

Departments

9 10 11 21 2

Calendar Peeling the Layers In the News For Sale Ads

Onion World

Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner of agriculture, Colorado Department of Agriculture, updates the group on the department’s activities. See story, page 18.

On the Cover Retiring Onion World editor/publisher D. Brent Clement was one of three people inducted into the Treasure Valley Onion Hall of Fame at the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Growers Association Annual Meeting in February. Photo by Tyler J. Baum, Editor.

Onion World magazine (ISSN 1071-6653), is published 8 times a year and mailed under permit #410, paid at San Dimas, CA 91773. It is produced by Columbia Publishing, 8405 Ahtanum Road, Yakima, WA 98903. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, for any purpose without the express written permission of Columbia Publishing. For information on reprints call 1-800-900-2452. CHANGE SERVICE REQUESTED Send to: Onion World, 8405 Ahtanum Road, Yakima, WA 98903

Idaho and Malheur Country Onion Growers Association Report

Fielding FSMA Story and Photos by Tyler J. Baum

A

t the same time the U.S. Senate was in the process of passing the 2014 farm bill, Treasure Valley onion growers were attending the 54th Annual Meeting of the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Growers Association at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, Ore. While topics ranged from yellow nutsedge to IYSV to new onion varieties, the common thread throughout the entire day was the ramifications for the onion industry stemming from the Food Safety Modernization Act.

FSMA Standards The Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2010 and signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, was the first piece of food safety legislation in 72 years. The law was passed in the wake of several major foodborne illness outbreaks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the government agency chosen to propose rules, write the final rules and provide compliance language and enforcement. The FDA has proposed nine rules and 10 guidance documents. One of the most controversial proposed rules, which has resulted in pushback from the onion industry, is the irrigation water standard—which mirrors the recreational water standard. If irrigation water exceeds 235 colony-forming units of Escherichia coli/100 ml in any one sample or 126 CFU/100 ml in the average of any five consecutive samples, growers must cease using that water in any way that directly contacts the surface

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Onion World

of fresh produce. FDA considers any irrigation of onion to directly contact the surface of the onion since it grows in the ground. Because the proposed rule covers items that are not cooked, fresh market onions are included. Clint Shock, Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station director, reported on the findings of OSU. He points out that the efficiency of our irrigation system Dr. Clint Shock, OSU. is based on re-using water extensively, which means water run-off from one field into another. As it travels across fields with animal droppings, the water progressively picks up E coli. OSU studied both direct and indirect water application. They concluded that although both furrow and drip irrigation might be considered “indirect water application,” the furrow irrigation observed resulted in high E coli MPN in the soil water adjacent to the onion bulbs, while the drip irrigation did not. “Very few bacteria reached the onion bulbs with drip irrigation,” he says. “The E coli didn’t get into the bulbs regardless, whether from water or from other bacteria that was just around [from animal droppings].” Shock proposed that perhaps they would be able to convince the FDA to consider drip irrigation as an indirect measure, by their own definition, meaning it wouldn’t have to be regulated.

“As growers manage to transform irrigation systems, and water is used only once through a sprinkler or drip system, then we can get away from the problem that we have with the accumulation of water-borne E. coli through water reuse,” he says. One rule Shock and his crew debunked was the mandate for growers and packers to replace wooden bins with plastic totes. Their studies in smaller scale showed no significant advantage of plastic, sterilized boxes over wooden boxes. He estimates that that rule would cost the local industry about $300 million extra. In 2013, the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee initiated a project with Intertox Decision Sciences in Seattle, Wash., to determine if there is a relationship between levels of bacterial contaminants in irrigation water and the risk of contamination of dry bulb onions with potentially pathogenic bacteria. Diane Wetherington, from Intertox Decision Sciences, says, “The issue you see for the dry bulb onions is that today, you have guidance where your testing is optional. With the Diane Wetherington, Innew rule, the tertox Decision Sciences. FDA is saying it would be mandatory.” She says that growers from other industries are also concerned that water testing will be cost prohibitive, and their concerns are being heard. “Now the FDA is going back, and they’re revisiting this ag water standard. They’re looking for data to justify what it should be,” she says. Intertox Decision Sciences is currently working with the NOA to use science to support the positions they take in regards to FDA requirements, and Wetherington reported that the research did show positive signs. “There are a lot of properties in onions that have been identified that are resistant to a lot of these patho-

gens” she says, citing Shock’s research, but then adds, “More research is needed.” More good news is that product tests done recently on dry bulb onions showed no positive signs of E coli. “Right now, there is no correlation between any of the high levels that you’ve seen in your agricultural water of E coli with any positive product test. This is the kind of information the FDA needs to see.” During the luncheon, attendees heard via video presentation from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, who said that “one-size-fits-all” water quality standard and other proposed rules “simply lack common sense.” “To those of us who understand farming, it’s pretty clear that growing cherries is very different from growing spinach, which is also very different from growing onions. Unfortunately, it appears those distinctions were lost on agents and bureaucrats back in Washington. We face an uphill battle in showing the FDA that these proposed rules simply didn’t make sense.” He then praised the association for pulling together funding for scientific research that is making a difference in pushing back on the FDA’s proposed rules. Rep. Walden says that last fall, he took that research directly to Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods. As a result, he says, the FDA has agreed to “go back to the drawing board” on the water quality standard and provide an additional comment period on revisions early next summer. “But we aren’t going to leave it at that,” he says. “It is our responsibility to continue to enact oversight on how the administration implements the law. You all have been safely growing onions for over a hundred years here in the Treasure Valley. Putting you out of business with regulations that aren’t practical in the name of food safety just doesn’t make sense, so I will continue to push back until the FDA gets it right.”

“You can choose to ignore FSMA; however, you cannot choose to ignore the consequences of ignoring FSMA.”” -Wayne Mininger, National Onion Association executive vice president

Wayne Mininger, NOA executive vice president, warned attendees during the luncheon to take FSMA seriously. “You can choose to ignore FSMA; however, you Wayne Mininger, NOA. cannot choose to ignore the consequences of ignoring FSMA. “It’s not just mandatory recalls and inspections,” he continues. “It’s an entire regulatory mechanism [that] mandates prevention testing quality control, and there’s accountability to the federal government now for prevention that did not exist before.” He says that the two proposed rules the NOA is most concerned about add up to 1,207 pages. “That’s just the start. Those 1,207 pages will turn into two or three thousand pages of guidance documents, and so we have to pay attention.”

Farm Bill and More The same day as the annual meeting, the U.S. Senate passed the $956 billion farm bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014. President Obama signed it into law the following Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. Rep. Walden reported that the compromise does include language requiring the FDA conduct and publish an economic analysis of the proposed FSMA rules. It reduces spending but supports programs that “work for eastern Oregon, particularly for growers in the Treasure Valley.”

Mininger says that funding for produce initiatives have increased 55 percent compared to the last farm bill. Also at the meeting, Kim Reddin, NOA director of public and industry relations, reported on consumer trends. She says that a restaurant study reports that vegetable mentions on menus have increased 11 percent in the past three years. She says Kim Reddin, NOA. that Technomic, a fact-based researching and consulting firm, says that 67 percent of those surveyed report they can be just as satisfied by an all-vegetarian meal as a meal with meat. However, the consumer perception is that the food industry doesn’t give enough access to fresh foods, enough healthy choices that fit into their budget, enough traceability throughout the food change and enough food aid to those in need in the U.S. and abroad. Reddin says that the NOA is working on changing those perceptions. Also during the luncheon, meeting attendees elected new members and alternates for districts 1, 3 and 5. For District 1, Dell Winegar was elected as the member, Ron Mio as the alternate. For District 3, Larry Kitamura was elected as the member, Corey Maag as the alternate. For District 5, Mike Hamby was elected as the member, Tiffany Tamura as the alternate.

Onion World • March/April 2014

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Treasure Valley Onion Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame Inductees Incl The three 2014 inductees into the Treasure Valley Onion Hall of Fame. From left, Brent Clement, Robert Wood, Bob Komoto and Malheur County Onion Growers Association President Paul Skeen.

T

hree people were inducted into the Treasure Valley Onion Hall of Fame at the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Growers Association Annual Meeting in February. They were Robert Wood, Bob Komoto and Onion World’s very own Brent Clement.

Robert Wood Charles Robert Woods was born in Ontario, Ore., in 1943 to Marion and Stella Woods. Robert grew up on the Oregon slope on his dad’s farm, where he learned to love

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Onion World

farming. His dad passed away when Robert was 12 years old, but Robert continued to work on the family farm and for growers in the area the whole time he was growing up, until graduating from high school in 1961. In 1965, he married his childhood sweetheart, Nola Zaugg, who grew up on a farm on the other side of the river. Robert graduated from Utah State University with a degree in agricultural economics and plant science. After graduation, he worked for the university doing research until the opportunity came for him to return

home and manage the fertilizer department at Consumer’s Co-op in Weiser. After working there for a few years, he and a friend purchased land together in the area east of Weiser. After finding water for irrigation, they turned dry range land into a successful row crop farm growing onions, potatoes, sugar beets, corn, wheat, beans and alfalfa. Eventually, he bought out his partner. As time went on, he purchased his mother’s farm, his father-in-law’s farm and more land by his home place up the Weiser River. He has also rented many acres on the Ontario slope.

lude Onion World Publisher Robert’s main effort and interest in farming has been in growing onions. Even in college, Robert dreamed of growing and marketing his own onions. In 1978, he realized that dream, and Appleton Produce began as a packing shed, packing and shipping his own onions and soon buying onions from other farmers to fill the contracts. Robert is an active member of the National Onion Association and has served as a trustee on various committees for many years. He served as president of the NOA from 1992– 1994. He served on the Promotion Committee for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee from 1985–

1994 and chairman of the Promotion Committee from 1989–1993. He and Nola traveled to many industry trade shows representing the committee.

Brent Clement Dallas Brent Clement was born was born Dec. 2, 1940, in Rigby, Idaho, the fifth of seven children. Brent grew up on a farm five miles west of Roberts, Idaho, where his father, uncle and grandfather had adjoining 160-acre farms. The farms were on the bottom of what was once a lake (Market Lake). The soil was too heavy for potatoes, so hay, wheat, barley and oats were grown—most of which was used at home, as feed

for a dairy herd of 30–35 milk cows as well as a chicken-egg operation. Eggs were sold to neighbors and to Dutson’s Grocery in the small town of Roberts. Brent grew up milking cows, feeding chickens, bucking baled hay and doing other farm jobs. After graduating from high school in 1959, he earned his A.A. in 1961 in business and accounting at Ricks College. Following a 2 ½-year mission for the LDS Church in South Korea, he returned home in 1964 and immediately left for Provo, Utah, to continue his education. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Brigham Young University in 1966 and 1968,

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respectively. His B.A. was in the field of communications (advertising and public relations); his M.A. in communications, with an emphasis in journalism. His first full-time job was serving as a technical editor at the National Reactor Testing Station, near Arco, Idaho (1968–1970). Bored to death with correcting grammar and spelling in scientific reports, long bus rides and sitting around many days with nothing to do, he soon left to become a reporter for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. His first job there was serving at the re-write desk, a job that required a thick skin but provided the finest training on how to work under pressure that he ever had. Daily newspapers have deadlines. Reporters often find themselves putting together breaking news articles with only five to 10 minutes to accomplish the task. This job provided needed experience for what would become Brent’s morethan-40-year career in the publishing business. In 1972, Darryl Harris, a former roommate at BYU and acquaintance in the mission field, talked Brent into joining him in a new publishing and advertising agency venture in Idaho Falls. Brent left the Deseret News to become the first editor of Potato Grower magazine and other publications produced at Harris Publishing that proved highly successful ventures; several of these publications continue to this day. Three years later, in 1975, Brent left Harris Publishing to enter into

a partnership with long-time friend, Mike Stoker, publishing a series of trade magazines out of Yakima, Wash. Among those published today are Onion World, Potato Country, The Tomato Magazine and Carrot Country. All are produced for target audiences. Over the years, Brent has interviewed countless onion growers all over the U.S., including many in the Treasure Valley. He retired at the end of 2013. To this day, he treasures the friendship and kindness of so many involved in the onion industry, especially leaders and member growers of the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Growers Association, the Idaho Eastern Oregon Onion Committee and the National Onion Association, as well as a team of skilled local researchers and educators who help keep the Treasure Valley one of the premier onion production areas in the country.

Bob Komoto Robert Komoto was born in 1948 to Joe and Midori Komoto in Ontario, Ore., the first of four children. Bob grew up in the local Ontario area, and being raised in the farming area, learned to appreciate agriculture. Bob struggled slightly with his studies in grade school and middle school and had to be, what some call, “encouraged” a little by his mother. Bob finally got it together in high school and graduated in 1966 as valedictorian, to his mother’s delight. He went on to Oregon State University, graduating with honors in 1970 and with a major in chemistry, something he knew he

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wanted to do since he was 13. From there, he went on to Stanford University, where he completed his PhD in Chemistry in 1974. Bob stayed in the Bay Area and went to work on commodity chemicals and oil recovery chemicals for Chevron Research for seven years. He met his future wife, Janet, at a political fundraiser on St. Patrick’s Day in 1976. They were married three years later. On a fishing trip in about 1980, Bob asked his dad, Joe, if he could use some help at the packing shed. His dad said, “Sure. Don’t make a commitment now, but try it out for a year and see if you like it.” So in 1981, he moved back to Ontario and started working at Ontario Produce. That job has turned into a 32 ½-year stint. He’s been general manager for at least a couple of decades, as it’s not clear exactly when Joe relinquished the position to Bob. Janet moved to Ontario in 1982 and joined Ontario Produce in 1986. Bob has been very active in our agricultural industry and has served on numerous committees and organizations, including as a member of the NOA, serving as a trustee for many years and vice president for one. He has been a member of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Marketing Order Committee as an Oregon Handler for 28 years; he served on the Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association Board of directors for six years and served as president of the association from 2002–2003. He served on the association transportation committee for 15 years, the Association Onion Committee for eight years and the scholarship committee for five years, and many more. In recognition of his dedication, time and amazing efforts, Bob was recognized as Agriculturalist of the Year by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and was inducted into the OSU College of Ag Sciences Hall of Fame in 2012. Last year, the State of Idaho honored him with the first Patrick Takasugi Leadership Award, for dedicated leadership, loyalty and service to Idaho’s agricultural industry.

Calendar

April 10 Vidalia Onion Field Day, Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center, noon, Toombs County, Ga., (between Reidville and Lyons). Contact: Cliff Riner, UGA Cooperative Extension, [email protected] edu.

plimentary lunch will be served. To reserve lunch, contact: Janet Jones at (541) 8892174.

Aug. 27 Nunhems’ 31st Annual Onion Showcase,

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mountain time, Roswell, Idaho at the Story Farm. Contact: Lyndon Johnson, Nunhems USA sales specialist, (208) 697-6615 or [email protected] bayer.com.

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June 10–13 United Fresh 2014, McCormick Place Convention Center, Chicago. Contact: United Fresh, (202) 303-3400, www.unitedfresh.org.

July 9 OSU Malheur Experiment Station Summer Farm Festival and Annual Field Day, 595 Onion Ave., Ontario, Ore. Complimentary lunch will be served. To reserve lunch, contact: Janet Jones at (541) 889-2174.

July 16–19 National Onion Association Summer Convention, Crowne Plaza Ventura, Ventura, Calif. Contact: http://www. onions-usa.org.

Aug. 26 OSU Malheur Experiment Station Onion Variety Day, Malheur Experiment Station, Ontario, Ore. Com-

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PEELING THE LAYERS

Detention for You By Tyler J. Baum

D

uring the morning break at the 54th Annual Meeting of the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Growers Association, in Ontario, Ore., I bumped into Kim Reddin, NOA director of public and industry relations, outside the theater. We chatted for a few minutes, and the topic turned from onions to cantaloupe. Just a few days earlier, the USA Today reported that Eric and Ryan Jensen of Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., were sentenced to five years’ probation and six months home detention for their role in the listeria outbreak in 2011 that killed 33 people. They also had to pay $150,000 in restitution and donate 100 hours community service. Home detention. Think about that. The reason they weren’t given prison time is because the judge wanted to “deliver both justice and mercy at the same time”—so the brothers could keep working to support their families and pay the restitution. Let’s be realistic. How likely is it that these two brothers will be able to continue growing cantaloupe? Or any

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Onion World

crop? What retailer is going to go near them? And yet it appears that’s the end to which the federal government was aiming. The USA Today article reports that, “The FDA also has said that the rare move to charge the Jensens was intended to send a message to food producers.” Message received. The federal government wants to make sure food producers understand that they’ll use you as an example if you mess up, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It doesn’t matter that the Jensens’ attorneys later stated that the brothers were shocked and saddened by the deaths, and that the guilty pleas did not imply any intentional wrongdoing or knowledge that the cantaloupes were contaminated. (They were adults taking responsibility for their operation.) So what does this have to do with onions? Because dry bulb onions are often eaten raw, we need as much research as possible to prove how safe of a commodity they really are. Diane Wetherington, from Intertox Decision Sciences, in Seattle, Wash., reported at the same onion meeting in

Oregon that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention name onions as the food vehicle in 16 foodborne illness outbreaks. However, Wetherington points out something interesting about that statistic. “None of these have been traced back to contamination at the farm, storage or packing facility,” she says. “So we really don’t know if it was really the onion or how the onion was handled.” In addition to those 16 known illnesses, there are another 28 outbreaks that named onions as a potential vehicle. The problem there lies in the unreliability of consumer reporting. Do you seriously remember everything you ate throughout the day a few days ago, let alone a week ago? And do you remember every ingredient? If a consumer gets sick eating a hamburger, everything on that hamburger gets lumped into the category of “potential vehicle,” be it the beef, lettuce, tomato or onion. I hope time is still on our side to gather the research we need as a hedge for our industry, because it’s only be a matter of time before “home detention” morphs into “jail time.”

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Strohauer Farms

Colorado Grower Finds Niche in Midst of Water Shortage By Denise Keller, Field Editor

y famil auer ., farms h o r t S The alle, Colo otatoes, S p of La acres of eat and h 5,000 , corn, w to right: s ft n le io d n ril o icture r, Tad, Ap P . y e ha . b r e m au ,A Katie arry Stroh trohauer S and H courtesy o t o h P s. Farm

from drying up Strohauer Farms’ onion production.

W

hen a legal ruling restricted well water pumping for many Colorado farmers in 2006, the state’s onion growers had to find new ways to maximize the efficiency of their water usage. For LaSalle, Colo., grower Harry Strohauer, that meant cutting his onion acreage to a fraction of what it had once been and focusing solely on specialty onions. Nearly a decade later, this strategy continues to keep the water shortage

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Onion World

Struggling with Well Shutdowns Strohauer traces the roots of his family’s northern Colorado farm back to the early 1900s when his grandfather started farming in the area. His father and uncle then managed the operation before he started farming in 1976. He added onions to his rotation of potatoes and corn in the early 1980s. At its peak, Strohauer Farms’ onion crop spanned 300 acres. But growing onions in the area became “a huge challenge,” Stro-

hauer says, when a series of court system decisions changed the administration of well pumping. Rights to pump from wells were curtailed, and in some cases terminated, in an effort to protect senior water rights downstream. Without the ability to pump well water, irrigators had to begin relying on surface water, which can be insufficient at times, the grower says. Prior to these changes, Strohauer had been using surface water and supplementing with well water as needed. He was growing yellow storage onions at the time, using mostly flood irrigation and some sprinkler irrigation with well water. When water became limited, some onion farming operations successfully adapted with drip irriga-

tion, but drip did not fit into Strohauer’s program. Others moved to center pivot irrigation, but Strohauer saw growers experience disastrous results growing onions under pivot irrigation with surface water. “Sprinkler irrigation worked great if it was well water, because it’s clean water. But all of our surface water comes through Denver, and there can be low levels of bacteria in it. If there’s any wound in the onion—and especially after a hailstorm—it just eats you alive with disease and bacterial issues,” the grower explains, adding that the LaSalle area can often be subject to hailstorms, which can beat up onion tops, allowing irrigation water to get into the neck and creating an environment for disease acceleration.

Maximizing Efficiency of Available Water With neither center pivot nor drip irrigation as a viable option, and because surface water was not a reli-

Strohauer Farms in LaSalle, Colo., produces 50–60 acres of specialty onions, including pearls, boilers, cipollini onions and a few acres of organic shallots. Photo courtesy Strohauer Farms.

able source to flood irrigate his entire onion acreage, Strohauer knew it was time to make a change.

“Because of the problems with water around here, I felt the future of onions was getting tougher and

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LaSalle Colo. grower Harry Strohauer, pictured outside his farm shop this winter, serves on the Colorado Onion Association board of directors and as past president, and is also a member of the National Onion Association. Photo courtesy Strohauer Farms.

tougher to survive in this area,” the grower recounts. “So we decided to enter into the specialties market. We were growing organic fingerling potatoes at the time, and this enhanced the markets we were trying to provide for.” As Strohauer began growing specialty onions, he phased out traditional onion varieties, completing the transition about four years ago. Under flood irrigation, he now farms 50–60 acres of specialty onions, including red, white and yellow pearl onions; cipollini onions; and a few acres of organic shallots. “I could operate with fewer acres and have the ability to package everything and move it direct to retailers. So with a lot fewer acres, we could try to achieve the same bottom line,” he says.

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In light of the reduction of available water, growers are striving to be more efficient with the resource. Strohauer tries to reuse the water wasted in flood irrigation, acknowledging, however, that if any disease is in the onions, it can be spread through the crop if the water is reused in the field. Instead, he uses the return water on more diseasetolerant crops such as corn. In addition, water users are continuing to work toward changes in the way water and wells are administered in the area. “We’re working on a couple bills to try to alleviate the issue, and there are studies going on,” Strohauer states. “A two-year study authorized by the legislature shows we’re over-augmenting by the drastic reduction in pumping, so our water table levels in many areas have come to new historic highs.”

The grower reports that the water table has gotten as high as three feet from the surface on his farm in recent years, compared to 12 feet below the surface prior to the well shutdowns.

Managing and Marketing the Crop Aside from water issues, weed control is among Strohauer’s top challenges in growing specialty onions, the majority of which are organic. “Weed control is a nightmare,” the grower describes. “We spend a tremendous amount of money trying to control weeds because it’s all done by hand.” In the interest of reducing labor costs, Strohauer is constantly looking for better ways to control weeds mechanically, which proves especially challenging in the pearl

onions because they grow scattered throughout the bed, rather than in rows, to achieve high yield. On the upside, Strohauer encounters fewer bacterial problems with the specialty onions because they have less of a top than storage onions and also finds thrips to be less problematic in specialty onions. That said, he remains diligent in managing the crop, including spraying organically approved products weekly to keep disease in check. In addition to onions, Strohauer produces about 5,000 acres of potatoes, corn, wheat and hay. Since Strohauer Farms was already marketing specialty potatoes to numerous retailers, specialty onions were a welcome addition to the program and have quickly found their place in the market. “Our specialty claim to fame is how we package our pearls and shallots. The type of packaging, the sizes and the containers we use would be our niche,” Strohauer says. Like many other packers, Strohauer Farms ships specialty onions in 8-ounce packages, but also tries

Weed control is among LaSalle, Colo., grower Harry Strohauer’s biggest challenges in growing specialty onions, the majority of which are organic, including the field pictured. Photo courtesy Strohauer Farms.

to address retailers’ packaging needs with other options, including shipping bulk in 9- or 10-pound cartons designed to have plenty of airflow, as well as attractive graph-

ics for retail display. Looking forward, Strohauer hopes to continue servicing his existing customers while also trying to develop new markets for his crop.

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Onion World • March/April 2014

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COLORADO ONION AssOCIAtION ANNuAL MEEtINg

Colorado Onion Report By Sandy Lindblad Lee

E

ATON, Colo.—The time is right to re-emphasize the vast health benefits of onions and make them more marketable to consumers, according to Dr. Michael Bartolo, extension vegetable crop specialist for Colorado State University. Cancer prevention and cholesterol-lowering are only two of the several attributes which onions offer, Bartolo reported

during his research report at the Colorado Onion Association annual meeting, held Jan. 30 at the Eaton Country Club. Bartolo noted that, in addition to the research to help develop the most cost-efficient growing methods for growers, “We are working on how we can add value to onions from a marketable standpoint.”

Colorado Onion Association members of the board of directors who were present at the meeting are, from left: Harry Strohauer of Strohauer Farms, LaSalle; Ryan Homewood of Homewood Farms, Montrose; Tanya Fell of the Colorado Onion Association; Brent Hines of Hines Farms, Delta; Larry Duell of Champion Seed Co., Greeley; R.T. Sakata of Sakata Farms, Brighton (wearing his Denver Broncos “unwavering fan” wardrobe); Glen Fritzler of KGF, LaSalle; Wayne Stewart of Fagerberg Produce, Eaton; Joe Petrocco of David Petrocco Farms, Brighton; and Randy Knutson of Zabka Farms, Greeley.

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He suggested that the Colorado onion industry should focus on publicizing the research that shows onions’ numerous health benefits, which Dr. Michael Bartolo, help combat a extension vegetable variety of serious crop specialist at conditions and the Arkansas Valley Research Center, gives diseases. Studies his research report. have shown that onions may have the ability to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cataracts, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, have some antibiotic activity and provide anti-cancer benefits. Bartolo said he is working in coordination with several researchers on this added dimension to provide additional documentation of onion’s healthy properties. Bartolo is based at CSU’s Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford, Colo., which is also one of three onion test locations that are cooperating with Dr. Henry Thompson in a wide-ranging project that “works on identification, development and production of food crop varieties for health benefits.” Prosser, Wash., and Northern Colorado are the other two test sites. Bartolo reviewed findings of the “flavonoids in onions,” including the compound Quercetin. “Onions are a major source of this flavonoid (antioxidant), which has been proven to help protect the body from cancer,” he noted. Quercetin was isolated in onions several years ago, and the research continues on its anti-cancer properties.

Bartolo explained that tests are being conducted focusing on measuring the “phenolics (antioxidants) in onions.” In Colorado, Granero and Delgado measured higher concentrations of phenolics. Interestingly, among the three state trial locations in 2013, Northern Colorado onions “had a little higher level of phenolics.” He hastened to point out, however, that “stress in growth can also affect levels of phenolics,” and northern Colorado had exceedingly difficult growing conditions last season, with late planting and fall flooding among the adversities. “Exposure to ultraviolet light can also cause an increase in accumulation of phenolics,” he explained, with much of that area in elevations over 5,000 feet. “Larger bulb size also resulted in lower concentrations,” he added. Further experimentations include feeding two onion varieties to rats with cancer tumors to see the effects.

Bartolo’s talk was one of several educational sessions at the Colorado Onion Association annual meeting that emphasized the theme of being more proactive instead of merely reactive to relevant issues and policies that affect onion growers, packers and shippers. Lisa Drake, luncheon keynote speaker, lead lobbyist for U.S. state and local government affairs for the Monsanto Co., spoke on “Championing Agriculture.” She stressed that “Nobody has more humility; nobody works harder,” than those in the agricultural industries. Yet, “People are so fragmented into their own areas” that a more united front “of grassroots activism” is needed. Drake offered several suggestions to keep on a proactive path to help with crisis prevention. “Stay in close touch with traditional allies such as farm groups, retailers and farmers, but establish contact with local non-traditional allies such as school boards, teachers, doctors and

university professors,” she encouraged. She added that when talking with legislators and/or the media, “learn to speak with confidence, and use messages Lisa Drake, U.S. state that resonate with and local governthose you are tryment affairs lead for ing to convince.” Monsanto Company, the luncheon keynote Be well-versed speaker, speaks to the on the subject group on “Championing matter, she says. Agriculture.” “Utilize research such as the Internet, and pay attention to bloggers and people who use Twitter or other social media that are speaking out against your cause— perhaps with misinformation.” She added, “Write letters to legislators and the media. Post links on Twitter; forward articles to key opinion-leaders. Build relationships first—before, not during, a crisis.”

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Also encouraging proactivity versus reactivity was Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association, who updated the group on proposed rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from the FDA. Signed into law in 2010, “What’s historic about this law is that it is a prevention-oriented food safety system that includes a broad prevention, testing and quality control mandate,” explained Mininger. “And it also encompasses accountability to the federal government for prevention.” He emphasized that the National Onion Association “is proactive on your behalf” as a unified voice for the industry. Mininger also stressed that the onion is definitely on the FDA’s radar. The FDA is now focused on revising water quality standards and testing protocol, including the use of manure and compost. The FDA expects to publish ‘proposed revisions’ by early summer. “You can choose to ignore FSMA; however, you cannot chose to ignore the consequences of FSMA!” he exclaimed. Also present at the annual gathering was Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, who updated the group on the department’s activities and stressed agriculture’s impact on Colorado’s economy. “Over $40 billion in economic activity, including nearly $2 billion in exports, are contributed to our

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state’s economy through agriculture,” Carleton noted. The full day of educational sessions, workshops and membership meetings at COA’s annual gathering also encompassed several reports from CSU research funding. Drawing high interest were the research reports relating to impending challenges with disease and pest control in Colorado’s onion crops. Dr. Thad Gourd, agricultural extension director based at the CSU Adams County Extension office in Henderson, gave detailed reports on the 2013 onion variety trials in northern Colorado. A challenging year because of extreme weather conditions resulted in some unexpected reduced yields and poor over-winter storing of select varieties. His ongoing studies of onion thrips’ impact on Iris Yellow Spot Virus (IYSV) spread continued through 2013. He also emphasized that “infected IYSV onions can over-winter and harbor the disease from one season to the next and can serve as a reservoir for infection.” Dr. Howard Schwartz of the department of plant pathology at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., gave a review of the results of bacterial disease field research completed in 2013, which centered on onion thrip control and management of IYSV. Symptoms of IYSV include strawcolor, dry, tan, spindle-or diamondshaped lesions on the leaves of onion plants.

“I have to continue to emphasize the importance of proper disposal of cull onions,” Schwartz noted. “The potential from thrips overDr. Howard Schwartz, wintering in the plant pathologist at Colorado State Univer- plants is very high.” sity, gives his research presentation on Iris He said reYellow Spot Virus and searchers gathother onion diseases. ered high populations of thrips in cull piles. “The thrips were able to survive in the onion culls—and then move into the new crop. The bottom line is sanitation—clean up your culls to prevent spread of the thrips and disease.” Schwartz also reported on disease control research, such as Botrytis Neck Rot management and soil-born threats including Fusarium Basal Rot and Pink Root. “There were more incidences of Pink Root last year than during any of the last 10 years,” he stressed. Based on ongoing research results, Schwartz made several other disease and pest management recommendations, including re-emphasizing proper field sanitation measures to help eliminating alternate hosts, culls and volunteers; heat stress management in the fields; utilizing varieties proven less susceptible to the virus; planting as densely as possible and using “clean” transplants, and; avoiding application of excess nitrogen to the crop. Schwartz also reminded the members that he and his research team received a grant a few years ago to fund the development of the “Onion App,” which can be accessed through a smartphone. It features more specific mapping of disease and pest problems, uploading of photos and videos and it has more accurate GPS information. To help educate the user, Schwartz offers an animated tutorial, which is available through YouTube (gisit.

com-collection), which offers a stepby-step guide. In addition to his annual research report, Schwartz stressed a big concern for “the continued erosion of onion specialists” within the country’s university systems. A primary cause of the situation is what he calls “the waves of the silver tsunami.” He explained that several university researchers may soon be retiring, and the trend is to cease funding for those positions when they become open. “A smaller pool of researchers reduces our ability to compete for funding to continue to address the critical needs of the onion industry in the next decade and beyond,” Schwartz noted. Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, professor of plant pathology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, wrapped up the research panel with his report on integrating existing natural insect enemies with insecticides for optimum

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results for thrip control. During the annual membership meeting, four directors were elected to fill expiring positions. Wayne Stewart Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, of Fagerberg plant pathologist at Colorado State Univer- Produce, Eaton; Glen Fritzler of sity, summarizes his research findings over KGF, LaSalle, the past year. and Larry Duell of Champion Seed Co., Greeley; were re-elected to represent the Front Range District; and Ryan Homewood, Homewood Farms, Delta, was a new director elected to fill the position of Duane Homewood, Homewood Farms, who is retiring, to represent Western Colorado. Additional meeting business included a president’s report from R.T.

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In the News (Continued from page, 11)

Colorado Onion Association Secretary-Treasurer Glen Fritzler, left, gives the financial report during the COA annual membership meeting with President R.T. Sakata.

Sakata, and an announcement from Secretary-treasurer Glen Fritzler of a “Groundwater Coalition,” which has formed to address water concerns. It was also announced that, because of insurance restructuring, the COA has lost its organizational status for divi-

dend payment through a workman’s compensation dividend program. Prior to the opening session, COA sponsored a Pesticide Applicator Continuing Education Credits Training, conducted by Laura Quakenbush of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

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