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Sixty years old and very proud to be American-grown

This year the nation’s senior marketing order for onions —Federal Marketing Order 958, which is administered locally by the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Committee — is marking its 60th anniversary.

Established in 1957, Federal Marketing Order 958 is four years older than FMO 959 governing South Texas (1961), more than 30 years older than FMO 955 governing Vidalia (1989) and nearly 40 years older than FMO 956 governing Walla Walla (1995).

Moreover, FMO 958 governs the only storage onion region in the United States! Is it a big deal? It’s a very big, very American onion sorting.

So this season, in addition to observing a solid 60 years, the committee is also focusing on its U.S. roots with a “Buy American” promotional campaign — which was first introduced in 2011 when the IEOOC launched “All-American Winners” and the tagline “Onion Country USA.”

The tagline has been woven into promotions for the last six years, but, promotion committee members emphasized, 2017 will have an even louder American drumbeat as Idaho-Eastern Oregon onions reach the marketplace.

Onions from IEOOC members are inspected daily by the Federal-State Inspection Service to certify they are in accordance with grade, size, pack and maturity requirements. Those criteria are just one more reason Spanish Sweets from Idaho-Eastern Oregon are so popular.

Who doesn’t know that growers in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Eastern Oregon produce more high-quality storage onions than any region in America, planting approximately 21,000 acres every year? But do they know the onions come from a blessed combination of the valley’s climate and soil, which each year come together as favorable growing conditions for third- and fourth- (and, yes, now going into fifth-) generation farmers. The farmers themselves harvest more than 24,000 carlots, with 40,000 lbs. per carlot, annually.

Of course someone had to recognize all those decades ago the potential the area held, and for IEOOC it was a group of growers who got it together in 1953 to form two regional associations, the Malheur County Growers Association and the Idaho Growers Association.

Joe Saito headed up the Malheur side of the growers, and across the river it was Doug McGinnis. The two groups, with their grower constituents, knew the laws of supply and demand and thus decided to bring about onion industry change.

Saito once wrote, “In the early 1950s our industry had several bad marketing years. Prices were cheap, and we had poor movement. The results were predictable, and just as happens today [1988], some producers faded away, and those who suffered through grumbled at everybody and everything. The difference between then and now was [in the earlier days] there didn’t exist anybody to speak for the growers.”

The growers associations oversaw upgrades to quality, and shippers “had their own ideas about what and how to market,” Saito continued.

Within a few short years the federal marketing order was established “after much dedicated effort by leaders of the growers and shippers associations, with advice from the USDA and assistance from their legal staff.”

The groups held hearings and a referendum, the order was adopted in 1957 and six decades later continues to define made-in-the-USA quality and taste, excellent and all-purpose sizing and the personal and customized service buyers know and appreciate.