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Mike Locati anticipates sweet year for Walla Walla onion growers

by Lora Abcarian | April 27, 2010
Mike Locati, chairman of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, has his fingers crossed that 2010 will be another banner year for Washington's signature sweet onion. "Last year turned out to be one of our better years yield-wise and quality-wise," he told The Produce News April 22. "We just couldn't do anything wrong in the field."

Walla Wallas are grown under U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Order 956. The protected growing area is situated in the Walla Walla Valley of southeast Washington and northeast Oregon. Walla Walla sweet onions are known for their low sulfur content, high water content and exceptionally sweet flavor.

Looking back at last season, Mr. Locati said that "2009 got off to a slow start, but the weather finally turned in our favor," he said. Per-acre yields were excellent with growers producing over 1,000 50-pound equivalents per acre. Much of the crop sized to jumbo or colossal. The harvest began in mid-June and continued into September. "Pricing was adequate," he noted.

Looking at 2010, Mr. Locati said that acreage planted to Walla Wallas is between 800 acres and 1,000 acres, similar to 2009. Weather is once again a factor, with growers experiencing bouts of unseasonably warm weather in the winter and cool weather in the spring. "It's been another slow start like last year," he said. "But we're optimistic we're going to have a normal year." Following typical timetables, the harvest is expected to commence in mid- June and extend into September if weather stays favorable.

The National Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture includes Walla Walla sweet onions in its data on Washington summer non-storage onions. According to NASS data published in January, Washington planted and harvested a total of 2,000 acres in this category.

(For more on Walla Walla onions, see the May 3, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)