Onion World July/August 2003

›› 90 Years of Blood, Sweat and Onions
›› Onions Etc. Becomes First Onion Company to Bear 'California Grown'
National Onion Association Offers Foodservice Guide
›› Producing Onions in New York's Oswego County
›› A Growing Vision for U.S. Organics
NOA Media Releases Tell the 'Onion Story'










90 Years of Blood, Sweat and Onions

Onion World
July/August 2003

Banding together in 1913, the earliest members of the National Onion Association had little knowledge of what the organization's future would hold. Now nearly 600 strong, NOA membership includes organizations as far away as Tokyo.

After enduring years of onion shortages and surpluses, legislation battles, promotion campaigns and overall growing pains and triumphs, the organization continues to transform to meet the needs of its members.

This year's NOA president, Bob Sakata, Brighton, Colo., has spent 30 years as an NOA trustee in one form or another. He still farms onions after 58 years.

"I describe myself as a survivor," Sakata said. No doubt many long-timers in the industry would say the same. But that's why organizations like the NOA were organized: to help farmers survive and thrive.

"I believe it's one of the most worthy commodity organizations that we have," Sakata added. With an industry that changes so much, the NOA has truly become a necessity. An expanding marketplace is just one challenge many in the industry face.

"Going back 50 years ago our competition was growers in our own neighborhood," Sakata said at the NOA annual convention in December. "Then approximately 30 years ago our competition widened as onion production expanded in Texas, Idaho, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Washington. Then, approximately 10 years ago, the world market came into play. We began facing new competition from Tasmania, Europe, Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, Taiwan and now China, the sleeping giant."

Key Beginnings
Originally the NOA was organized for the gathering of information and the improvement of onion growing practices, according to the incorporating document signed June 23, 1913. In the years to come that scope would expand tenfold.

In the 1950s those of the onion industry contended with futures trading on the Chicago Merchantile Exchange. Surveys were conducted and the majority of NOA members were opposed to the practice. In the December 1955 NOA annual meeting, a resolution was passed to eliminate futures trading.

"The NOA was the vehicle that moved the U.S. Congress to pass law that would ban futures trading," said Wayne Mininger, NOA executive vice president since 1986.

Seven bills were presented to Congress to have it discontinued, countless letters were written in opposition and members of the industry traveled to Washington, D.C., to appear before congressional committees. Futures trading was officially banned in 1958.

Since then, the NOA has continued to maintain a presence on federal issues that crowd the onion industry, according to Mininger.

Member Camaraderie
Ed Muir, Utah, served on the NOA board for several years during the 1960s and was president from 1970-1971. During the 1960s growers faced up and down prices and the NOA faced declining membership. It was then that the NOA changed the focus of its meetings.

"Prior to my time (as president) we used to always meet in Chicago right before Christmas. Then it changed to mostly production areas," Muir recalled. Members met in McAllen, Texas, in 1972, where attendance jumped to 100 from the 30-40 who had attended Chicago meetings.

Today meetings are still held in various production areas. This year's summer meeting in July will showcase Orange County, N.Y.

"Growers love to kick the soil, put their hands in the dirt, talk to others about equipment, seed varieties, etc.," said Mininger, adding that a lot of interaction takes place among those in attendance.
Interaction between NOA members may seem like an insignificant part of the organization, but it has been a crucial part of its success since the beginning.

"One major accomplishment of the NOA is its ability to bring in growers, vendors, processors and marketers altogether where we get to meet each other so we can communicate better," explained Sakata. "The fellowship it has created in the onion industry is great."

You almost can't put your finger on it, but creating relationships between members of the industry creates a sense of togetherness.

"One of the things that has always been important to the NOA is to promote camaraderie between the different segments of the industry," according to Mininger. "When industries quit talking to each other it becomes cold. We feel there's much to be gained by speaking and networking with each other."

Promotions Expand
Along with promoting camaraderie, the NOA and regional onion groups strive to promote the onion itself. In 1959 the first promotional efforts were made in the way of press releases and cooperative efforts with grocery chains. To pay for these efforts, the bag assessment program was introduced. Members voluntarily gave contributions per bag of onions, similar to what members do today.

Although NOA's first efforts at promotions were in the late 1950s, promotions really became a focus starting in the late 1970s.

This focus became a more permanent part of the NOA when the first promotional director, Sandy Lindblad Lee, was hired in 1982. Work with media including magazines, radio and TV stations proved successful, and various brochures including color onion shots, recipes and general onion information were created and had wide distribution. In 1984 restaurant awards were given out, and Lee encouraged cooperation with retailers like Kroger and Safeway.

Many other campaigns were brought about to help tell the story of the onion.

"By the time the 80's came around, we had people with additional insight and foresight. They were dedicated to the idea that you need to make people aware of your product at the consumer level. If you are quiet, you can become out of sight, out of mind," Mininger explained.

As a testament to the NOA's promotional efforts, along with efforts made by other state and regional groups, onion consumption rose from 12.2 pounds per person in 1982 to 18 pounds per person in 2002.
The late 1980s saw a promotional effort that expanded overseas. Several export trips were made over the years, including annual attendance at international trade shows.

"There's been an effort to maintain a presence in at least one international export show per year so we can highlight the quality and availability of U.S. onions in the mind's eye of international buyers," said Mininger. Aggressive U.S. onion exporters have developed significant inroads into several international markets. All these efforts seem to be working.

"Exports have expanded tremendously. Imports are also a bigger factor today. The world community is a smaller place and more in touch than it was 20 years ago," he added.

Today's public and industry relations director Tanya Fell continues to work within a budget of voluntary funds given by NOA members.

"When I have the money I do the projects," she said.

One of those projects included a February press kit mailing to over 600 national newspapers promoting the fresh crop.

"We've had pretty remarkable pick-up from this mailing," Fell said.

Fell has also been working on a new Foodservice Guide to Onions, which was just completed and sent out to foodservice publications.

Also a promotional tool, the NOA Web site, www.onions-usa.org, is receiving a new look. Launched in 1996, it is currently under re-construction and will include more information and PDF documents including the Foodservice Guide to Onions. Completion is expected in about one month.

NOA Objectives
As the NOA moves forward into a continually changing market, its objectives will remain crucial. And though some things have changed, some aspects of the NOA have remained the same.
"It's still a gathering place for people, a gathering place of statistics and marketing analysis and always has been," said Muir.

Editor's Note: Photos courtesy of the National Onion Association. Some information for this article was furnished by "National Onion Association: Nine Decades of Progress," researched and written by Sandy Lindblad Lee.

© 2003 Columbia Publishing

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Onions Etc. Becomes First Onion Company to Bear 'California Grown'

Onion World
July/August 2003

Stockton, Calif.-Onions Etc., a year-round supplier of onions, is now licensed to use and display the "California Grown" certification mark, a newly developed logo designed to help consumers identify and choose California-grown agricultural products. The company plans to use the mark on its high graphic consumer bags in which they package all types of onions for numerous retail grocery chains.

A recent statewide survey indicates that the "California Grown" campaign is building consumer demand and increasing the sales of California-grown agricultural products.

"As consumers, each of us can support California's economy by seeking out and purchasing California grown products and use of the 'California Grown' certification mark makes it easier to do this," said Scott Horsfall, chief operations officer of the Buy California Marketing Agreement.

According to the California Grown Web site, www.californiagrown.org, the program was developed "to emphasize our strong ties to the land and to our neighbors; to restore pride in our homegrown products and our work; and to help our economy and our Californian way of life."

Company Profile
Onions Etc., started in 2001, is a year-round shipper, packer and re-packer based in Stockton. The company produces European-style high graphic consumer bags in which they package onions, Idaho potatoes and in-shell English walnuts.

Though only two years old, the company has experience success.

"The key thing is that there is really nothing else like these bags today," said Derrell Kelso Sr., head of marketing at Onions Etc. Though Onions Etc. bags do resemble consumer bags popular in Europe, Onions Etc. takes it one step further by providing extensive information on the bag including a Web site, recipes and grower information.

Consumer response has been overwhelming. In the last four months the Onions Etc. consumer Web site, www.homegrowngoodness.com, has averaged 31,300 hits per month. What are all these onion-buying consumers looking at?

Number one, according to Kelso, is grower profiles. Each bag of onions features the grower for those particular onions. Consumers can then get onto the Web site and read about the grower and see photos.
From this not only can consumers feel more connected with the product they are buying, but there is another benefit of featuring growers on the bags and online.

"There's much less concern about food safety," Kelso said. Consumers trust someone they can see, and if a grower is willing to be traceable they are that much more comfortable to the end user.

The second most visited area of the Onions Etc. consumer Web site is the recipe section. Recipes are already featured on onion bags, but from the amount of site traffic it is obvious consumers are looking for even more ways to cook onions, a goal of the company.

"We're trying to get across that eating at home is the healthy choice," Kelso said.

Consumer Driven Ag
The Web site is also another prime example of how Onions Etc. dictates its business by its consumers.
"In the retail industry, nobody knows which way to turn," Kelso said. "Things change so fast, it takes a long time to make a decision." Receiving so much feedback from consumers, however, Onions Etc. knows that their product is working.

For example, Kelso explained, the other day he received a call from a San Diego customer who had a friend visiting from Pennsylvania. The friend wanted to know if the company's onions were sold in Pennsylvania (which they aren't), and if it weren't he would be carting a bunch home.

Although Kelso doesn't think bagged onions will take over the traditional loose onions, which still take up about 75 to 80 percent of the U.S. onion market, it's obvious they're doing something right.

© 2003 Columbia Publishing

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National Onion Association Offers Foodservice Guide

Onion World
July/August 2003

For information about onion types, uses, nutrition and more, look to The Foodservice Guide to Onions. Produced by the National Onion Association, this free guide answers common foodservice industry questions about storage, handling and cooking with onions.

To order your free cards, write to the National Onion Association, 822 7th Street, Suite 510, Greeley, CO 80631, or e-mail tfell@onions-usa.org.

© 2003 Columbia Publishing

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Producing Onions in New York's Oswego County

Onion World
July/August 2003

By Jan van der Heide
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County

Muck onion production in Oswego County probably bears a lot of similarity to muck onion production in other areas of the northern U.S. There are several climactic conditions, however, that set Oswego County apart from other production areas in New York state and probably onion production in other states.

Oswego County is located just north of Syracuse, and most muck is located within a few miles of Lake Ontario. As in Michigan, the down-wind location from one of the Great Lakes results in fearsome Lake Effect snowfall, blanketing most of the production areas in several feet of snow at a time, with annual snowfall exceeding 100 inches every year.

The heavy snow cover keeps fields cold and wet until late in the spring, and Oswego County growers are the last ones to plant their onions in the U.S., and only growers in Ontario plant later. At the same time, the proximity to a large body of water helps moderate summer temperatures.

Moderate temperatures and adequate moisture usually result in even rates of crop development and reliable yields of 900 to 1,000 bushels per acre of excellent quality and acceptable size.
The length of the growing season is relatively short, however, about 115 days.

In New York state, onions are produced on approximately 14,500 acres of muck and a few hundred acres of upland soils. In Oswego County, we grow onions on about 2,300 acres of muck and about 100 acres of upland soils. The majority of the acreage is planted to yellow storage onions, about 400 acres is planted with red onions, with an additional 300 acres planted in sweet Spanish onions.

Much in Oswego County is primarily of the woody type, with pH ranging between 5.2 and 5.8. The depth of muck deposits ranges from over 40 feet on the deepest mucks to less than two feet on the older and shallower muck.

The oldest fields have been in production for over 100 years, and the youngest muck is about 10 years old. Oswego County could expand production to at least 40,000 acres, but, as is the case anywhere in the U.S., muck farmers in New York state cannot clear any new muck as the result of the Wetland Protection Act. As a result, soil resources for onion production are depleting, and the acreage of productive muck is declining.

Onion production on upland soils is increasing, but upland onion production is very difficult without adequate irrigation.

Onions are seeded between April 20 and May 10, and harvest begins in the middle of August with the early varieties and extends into early October. Onions are planted on both raised beds and "on the flat," with each farm using its own configuration of row spacing and bed width and height. Seeding is done with Stanhay belt seeders, using pelleted seed. Several farms are using film-coated seed and vacuum seeders, like Gaspardo or Monosem. All growers use a liquid drench system to deliver fungicides and insecticides and other amendments to the seed furrow.

A significant portion of red onions Spanish onions are produced from bare root transplants. Transplants are produced in Florida or Arizona and are planted in the Oswego area in the early part of May. Transplanting is done with modified celery planters or by hand.

Pest Control
Most seed is treated with ProGro for control of Onion Smut and growers add fungicides to the liquid drench for control of damping-off organisms and Onion Smut (Mancozeb at 3 lbs/acre) and Pythium (Ridomil Gold at 0.5-1 pt/acre).

Onion maggot is controlled with either Trigard as a seed treatment or with Lorsban in the drench.
The most important foliar diseases include Botrytis Leaf Blight, Alternaria Purple Blotch and Stemphylium. On cold or wet years we also have some problems with Downy Mildew. The usual fungicides (Mancozeb, Bravo, Quadris, etc.) are applied on a regular basis, starting by mid-June and continued through harvest with good success.

Other fungal diseases that can cause losses are Botrytis Neck Rock and Fusarium Basal Plate Rot. These diseases are often limited to red onions, especially on years with a wet fall (Neck Rot) or on years with a hot and dry summer following a wet spring (Fusarium).

In addition to onion maggot, growers experience problems with onion thrips. The weather in Oswego County tends to be cool due to close proximity to Lake Ontario, and the build-up of thrips populations is not nearly as rapid as in Orange County. Frequent rains help suppress thrips as well. Insecticide sprays for thrips include Warrior and Lannate. In winter and early spring it is not difficult to find onion thrips in storage and grading facilities or on cull piles.

The use of Trigard as seed treatments has made some onions vulnerable to seed corn maggot damage. The incorporation of green cover crops, or heavy weed populations, attracts seed corn maggot adults and encourages oviposition in these fields. Losses to seed corn maggot are sporadic, but can be devastating.

Storage onions are treated with sprout inhibitor and undercut in the field. After onion necks are dry onions are harvested with AirFlo harvesters and collected in 20 bushel bins. The bins are stacked and covered in the field, and onions are allowed to cure for several weeks.

Some growers harvest onions in bulk truskc and remove trash before onions are transferred to 20 bushel bins. In this case, onions are left to cure in bins on a separate gravel pad.

Most red onions and Spanish onions are harvested by hand, and Spanish onions are often cured in dryers using forced and heated air.

Onions are stored in common storage buildings equipped with roof vents and side vents. Some storage buildings are equipped with automatic ventilation systems that help to regulate temperature and humidity levels in the storage, but in the majority of cases temperature and humidity levels are manipulated through opening and closing doors and operating ventilation fans by the grower himself.

In Oswego County, there is only one bulk storage building, and it is not in use this year because of the light crop.

Onions are marketed from September through April, and are sold primarily to re-pakers and brokers either in 50 pound sacks or in 20 bushel bins. Onions from Oswego are sold through markets and chain stores from Maine to Florida, and on some years a sizeable portion of the crop is exported to the Caribean Basin.

As in the case everywhere, growers from Oswego are supplying a saturated onion market and the availability of large volumes of onions from western production areas and Quebec has depressed prices and is reducing farm profitability.

© 2003 Columbia Publishing

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A Growing Vision for U.S. Organics

Onion World
July/August 2003

AUSTIN, Texas-Anthony Rodale, chairman of Pennsylvania-based The Rodale Institute® declared a broad new vision for organic farming in the United States.

Addressing leaders of the U.S. organic industry gathered for the 2003 All Things Organic™ Conference and Trade Show in Austin in May, Rodale called for 100,000 farmers, about 5 percent of America's remaining 2 million farmers, to transition to certified organic by 2013.

Currently, 12,200 farmers are certified organic (just over ½ of one percent of all U.S. farmers), according to Rodale. This would represent a 750 percent increase in the number of certified organic farms and ranches.

The Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA) reports that the market for organic food and products is more than $11 billion in annual sales, growing an estimated 20-30 percent per year.

Organic Onions
An attendee at the conference and an OTA member, Dennis Holbrook, founder of Mission-based South Tex Organics, L.C., can attest to the rapid growth of organics. Since Holbrook began farming organically in 1984, he has become the largest organic citrus and vegetable grower in Texas, with over 400 certified acres. The company distributes truckloads throughout the nation and exports to Japan, Canada, and Europe.

Holbrook decided to transition to an organic operation for many reasons. Through research he found that chemical usage was depleting the soil, causing the need for extra irrigation and fertilization to make up the difference. When the company changed over to organic production first the company was growing citrus, but over the years row crops were added, including onions in 1989.

"We are always looking at different things we might produce," Holbrook said. Since starting vegetable crops the company has decided to discontinue growing certain vegetable crops, but they have stuck with onions since inception.

"One of the advantages is, we produce one of the first domestic onions grown for the year," he explained. The bulk of the company's onion production is in yellows, but they also produce red and white onions.
Organics all over the U.S. continue to grow and grow. Holbrook pointed out that organics is the only area in agriculture that has seen continual growth over the years. Such high demand has many contemplating why consumers would choose organic over other options.

"People have become more conscious of what they are consuming," Holbrook said. "They want to make sure there are not some potentially harmful things in what they are eating."

Organic Web Center
Also at the organics conference, Rodale officially announced the launch of www.NewFarm.org, the nation's first organic farmer-oriented information center which provides articles, marketing tools and expert resources on crop and livestock production, direct marketing, and timely policy issues.
NewFarm.org is the modern incarnation of The New Farm® magazine, the widely read print publication started in 1979 by Robert Rodale.

NewFarm.org recently made national headlines when it demonstrated the new Organic Price Index™ (OPX™), the first service offering farmers critical and timely market pricing data for no charge.

In addition to the OPX, NewFarm.org will also feature:

o Organic Farming Online Training Courses - teaching basic and advanced organic agricultural techniques.

o 1,000 Stories of Regenerative Agriculture - success stories about innovative farmers and ranchers all across the U.S.

o News and Research - Scientific reports and news related to the economics, politics, social issues and environmental impact of agriculture.

o New Farm International - first-person accounts from around the world, including Cuba, Guatemala, India, Japan, Kenya, Laos, New Zealand, Thailand and Switzerland.

© 2003 Columbia Publishing

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NOA Media Releases Tell the 'Onion Story'

Onion World
July/August 2003

The NOA recently sent out press kits to media outlets nationwide. Press kits included a production chart, recipe brochures and media releases about onion consumption, nutrition and health, bulb production, season differentiation, history, trivia, a recipe brochure offer and general information about the NOA.

The following is selected information from this press kit. For more information, please contact Tanya Fell, NOA director of public and industry relations, at (970) 353-5895 or tfell@onions-usa.org.

Onion Consumption
Onions represent the third largest fresh vegetable industry in the U.S. Nationwide per capita consumption of onions is around 18.8 pounds per year, up from 11.4 pounds per person in 1980, a rise of 65 percent. This translates into approximately 350 semi-truck loads of onions used in the U.S. each day.

World onion consumption is estimated at approximately 105 billion pounds each year. The average annual onion consumption calculated to approximately 13.67 pounds of onions per person across the world. Libya has the highest consumption of onions with an astounding average per capita consumption of 66.8 pounds.

Onion Nutrition
Onions are low in calories yet add abundant flavor to a variety of foods. With only 30 calories per serving, onions are sodium, fat and cholesterol free and provide dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and other key nutrients.

Research shows that onions may help guard against many chronic diseases. In addition, onions contain a variety of other naturally occurring chemicals known as organosulfur compounds that have been linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Onion Bulb Production
At least 175 countries grow onions. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are an estimated 6.7 million acres of onions in the world, producing 105 billion pounds of onions each year. Approximately 10 percent of this world onion production is traded internationally. Leading onion production countries are China, India, United States, Turkey and Iran, respectively.

U.S. farmers plant approximately 145,000 acres of onions, producing approximately 6 billion pounds of onions (excluding dehydration production) each year. The U.S. onion industry accounts for 2.5 percent of the world onion acreage and 7 percent of the world onion production.

Onions are grown in more than 20 states. Leading production areas are Idaho-Eastern Oregon, Washington and California.

During the past five years, annual onion imports have ranged from 410 to 620 million pounds. The vast majority of these U.S. imported onions come from Mexico and Canada.

Annual onion exports during the last five years have ranged from 315 to 660 million pounds. Leading export countries for U.S. onions are Canada, Japan and Mexico.

The NOA estimates that there are about 1,200 onion growers in the United States. Virtually all onion producers grow other agricultural crops. The annual value of the U.S. onion crop is $800 million at the farmgate and nearly $3-4 billion at retail.

© 2003 Columbia Publishing

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