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Champion optimistic that well-cured crop will go into storage

A cool spring in the Treasure Valley might have slowed onion growth initially, but John Wong, president of Champion Produce Sales Inc. in Parma, ID, said in mid-September that he expected a good storage crop.

“Our late summer has had higher temperatures and very good curing weather,” Mr. Wong told The Produce News. “We don’t have them all in the barn yet, however. Until we get that done, weather could still be a factor, and we always keep one eye to the sky.”

Still, he said, “we should have a well-cured crop in storage.”

The first onions out of the field came in on Sept. 6, and Mr. Wong said that is “about three weeks later than when we’d like to get started.”

“The crop is a little lighter than last year, but we can make the season as long or short as we need to,” he said. “Our supplies are fairly normal this year after last year’s somewhat heavier crop.”

The predominantly yellow Spanish Sweet onion volume is seeing a “variety of sizes,” he noted.

“Some lots won’t have as many super colossals or colossals, but we haven’t even begun storing yet, so it’s still early to tell,” Mr. Wong said, adding that onions would start going into storage later in the month.

He noted that acreage has not varied significantly for the three-shipper sales arm, and he said that Champion Produce now has 70 percent of its field under drip irrigation. Giant Produce and Tamura Farms each has more than 50 percent of their fields under drip as well, he said.

The primary variety for Champion Produce Sales is the Vaquero in yellows.

Mr. Wong said that the company continues to focus primarily on foodservice and processing.

Working in the sales department are Mr. Wong and company Vice President Dwayne Fisher, as well as Cheryl Leavitt, Ross Sevy and DeDe Fogg. Kirk Tewalt came on this year to handle transportation, and Brad Dines heads up the food-safety efforts.

Since its incorporation in 2007 as sales arm for Champion Produce, Tamura Farms and Giant Produce, Champion Produce Sales has initiated a number of traceability and food-safety measures that stem from its in-house “seven points of safety.”

Among those seven points are continuing education and training, field maps, third-party audits, traceability, safety-chain management and the establishment of Mr. Dines as a full-time food-safety director.

In addition, Champion Produce Sales’ growers have been audited by Primus and Silliker since 2009.

Mr. Wong said that improvements during the past year include an enclosed building for permanent air storage at Tamura and a new air storage facility at Champion, which utilizes remote computerized controls.