On Aug. 29, Nunhems USA, part of Bayer CropScience, celebrated the 20th birthday of the Vaquero onion variety at its 2012 Onion Showcase. “The celebration of the 20th ‘birthday’ of a revolutionary variety like Vaquero is an exciting time for the Nunhems onion crop team,” Travis Estvold, Nunhems MarComSpecialist-NAFTA, told The Produce News on Sept. 7. “The longevity of Vaquero is a testament to the long-term vision of our breeder, Rick Watson, and the rest of the team. Moreover, it underscores what Nunhems constantly strives to do: Provide superior service to our customers for the long haul, often times developing products for market needs that have not yet even been realized.”
Mr. Estvold said approximately 400 local and regional growers as well as industry specialists from around the globe met at Story Farms in Roswell, ID, for the onion showcase. The Vaquero is one of the more successful long-day onion varieties, and Mr. Estvold said it is one of the most frequently grown varieties in the Treasure Valley.
Mr. Watson provided The Produce News with some insights about the Vaquero breeding program. “The breeding work to develop, stabilize and performance test the parents of Vaquero began in 1981,” he stated. “The experimental hybrid (SUNEX 1487) that would eventually become Vaquero was first made in 1988. Stock seed increases of the Vaquero parent lines were accomplished from 1988 to 1990. The first commercial seed crop of Vaquero was harvested in 1992. SUNEX 1487 was field-tested for four years before the first commercial fields of Vaquero bulbs were grown in 1993.”
Rene Emch, product specialist for long- and intermediate-day onions, said Vaquero is a top-selling variety in the Northwest, and has been for the better part of two decades. “The Spanish onion type has been grown in this area for about as long as onions have been grown in the Treasure Valley,” he said. “This area has dry summers with warm to hot temperatures that suit this genetic type. Breeding and selection in this area have made Vaquero well-adapted to this type of climate, one that we also happen to find in many other parts of the world.”
He went on to say the Vaquero’s high single center percentages make it highly desired by onion ring manufacturers and other onion producers. “Single-centered onions raise the recovery rate of usable product in onion processing plants, and carry no negative attributes for the bulbs that go into the fresh market,” Mr. Emch explained. “This makes Vaquero an ideal onion for both purposes, and gives the grower maximum flexibility in the marketing of this variety in both the processing and fresh market trade.”
Mr. Emch was asked if there are any other varieties currently in development for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion growing region. “Nunhems has an active breeding program in this type of onion,” he replied. “We have just released Anillo, trialed as NUN 7015, for this market segment. Its single center potential is higher than Vaquero’s, and its size and shape uniformity is often also higher. Since Vaquero was released, we have made several successful commercial hybrids that are in wide use [including the] Granero, Ranchero, Montero, Arcero and Anillo. In a similar class, we have released Pandero, Valero, Campero and Utrero. We continue to actively breed in this class, looking for better disease resistance, exterior scale quality, single centers and storage.”
On another front, Nunhems held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its state-of-the-art onion bulb storage facility in Brooks, OR, on Aug. 30. According to Nunhems’ Regional Crop Manager John Ihli, the facility is the first of its kind in the area. The 31,000-square-foot building incorporates a reverse charging of the return air plenum system to regulate air pressure, which helps the drying of short onion stalks on both sides of the structure. The expanded storage capability also provides Nunhems increased ability to fill its customers’ seed orders.
“The new bulb storage facility assures that our program can both maintain our current level of onion seed production and satisfy growth trends,” Mr. Ihli commented. “Prior to building this facility, we relied heavily on outside rented storage. Now we have the capacity to store our entire mother bulb harvest on site.”