Featured image, field shots, and Locati onions courtesy of Michael Locati of Locati Farms and Pacific Agra Farms.
After an early start to their season, Walla Walla Sweets growers and shippers are full-bore with good quality and yields, according to Michael Locati of Locati Farms and Pacific Agra Farms.
Michael, who also chairs the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, told OnionBusiness on June 29 the onions look great, and crews are working nighttime schedules to beat the record-setting heat during harvest.
“The forecast for today is 115F,” Michael said. “It was 113 yesterday, which was a record. We’re running full-speed, and the crew started at 2 a.m. to beat the heat today.”
He added, “Things are coming on really fast,” but said the season is still expected to run into mid-August.”
“The planting was staggered, and the quality and yields are very good,” he said.
Designated a unique onion variety by Federal Marketing Order 956 that was adopted in 1995, Walla Walla Sweet Onions are grown only within the federally protected growing area of the Walla Walla Valley that lies in southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon. And the 10-member administrative committee that Michael chairs consists of four producers, two shippers and a public member as well as an alternate for each member. That body locally administers the order, with its programs financed by assessments.
Over recent decades the onion acreage has decreased, although Michael said it has stabilized at about 500. That includes organics, which are produced by Dan and Sarah McClure, and the trademarked Walla Walla Sweet Rosés, which Locati grows.
All Walla Walla seed is heirloom and hand-selected, including the reds, Locati said. “They are a pigment variation, and it took some time to pick out the seed We were looking for the ones with more pigment, and they are a really nice pink for salads and burgers without all that bite of a hybrid.”
The Rosés started shipping the week of June 21, he added.
Michael said “probably 95-97 percent” of the onions go to retail, and the market is primarily the Pacific Northwest and California. “We also go into Canada,” he said. “We’ll ship anywhere, of course.”
Touching on the two flashpoints of the industry, Michael said labor is “so far, so good.” He added, “We have a solid crew that shows up and gets the job done. They’re all local – we didn’t any H-2A this year. And having a good crop helps, because it’s all piece work.”
About transportation, he said, “It’s expensive.” The issue of packaging, he said, is another case of “so far, so good.”
He said, “Everything – packaging, transportation, everything – is just more expensive now.”
On the marketing side, Dan Borer with Keystone Fruit Marketing told us on June 30 that Keystone is very happy with the Walla Walla season marketing season so far.
“We got an early start this year for our Walla Walla Sweets, Rosés, and Walla Walla organic,” he said. “Quality has been excellent, and demand has been very good right out of the gate. We have good volume, and the size profile on the sweets has been on the larger side.”
Dan added, “The market is good going into the holiday weekend, and we have some of our national retailers that will be running big ads post-July 4, so we are very excited about that. We anticipate shipping this crop mid- to late August.”
Walla Walla boxed and consumer pack onion photos courtesy of Dan Borer with Keystone Fruit Marketing.