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Champion Produce increases acreage, adds storage

Noting that the company’s onion acreage was increased slightly in 2013, Champion Produce Sales President John Wong said the Parma, ID, facility has also added 5,000 square feet in additional storage this year as well.

The new storage is computer programmed for temperature and humidity control, and Wong said it can be adapted for refrigeration if the need arises.

champion-photo-ieooc-2013Champion Produce Sales ‘family’ members include (back row) Brad Dines, DeDe Fogg, Ross Sevy, Cheryl Leavitt, Dwayne Fisher, (front row) Monica Gibbens, John Wong and Jennifer Uranga. (Photo courtesy of Champion Produce)Handling onions grown by Champion Produce and its sister operations, Giant Produce and Tamura Farms, Champion Produce Sales is staffed by Wong and Vice President Dwayne Fisher as well as Cheryl Leavitt, Ross Sevy and Jennifer Uranga. Sevy handles transportation for the vertically integrated company, and food safety is overseen by Brad Dines. Staff support is provided by DeDe Fogg, Nancy Wong and the company’s newest employee, Monica Gibbens.

In describing this year’s crop, Wong said that a summer heatwave stressed areas of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Treasure Valley, but he noted that Champion’s fields were less affected than many others.

“The weather will somewhat limit overall sizing and yields in this area, but we weren’t hit as hard as some growers,” Wong said. “Also yellow spot is not as bad [in the Champion growing area]. Heat does make onions more susceptible to the virus, but beyond that it also speeds maturity, and we are seeing a nice, mature sweet here.”

In late August the Treasure Valley was experiencing cooler temperatures, which Wong called “perfect for field curing.” Rain was slowing harvest, but Champion was shipping from its facility and from Tamura. Giant was expected to come online within two weeks.

Onions were also expected to start going into storage in mid-September, he said.

Most of the onions produced by the operation are yellow Spanish Sweets. Reds and whites represent a combined 10 percent of volume.

Fisher said volume to repackers has increased, and he added that the largest market for Champion remains foodservice.

“Our niche is our flexibility and our volume,” he said. “We can service extremely large foodservice operations for volume and different packs in one load. Loads can have 15 to 20 items, and we handle transportation.”

Fisher said Champion continually fine-tunes its efficiencies in sales, sheds and loaders, and he said the operation’s focus continues to be “to cover the United States.”