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Snow damage recovery will challenge onion industry

The Idaho-Oregon onion industry faces many challenges as it tries to rebound following the collapse of dozens of storage and packing buildings this winter.

By Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on February 9, 2017 5:21PM

Onions are buried underneath debris and snow after this storage facility in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of snow and ice. The Idaho-Oregon onion industry faces a major rebuilding challenge following the collapse of more than 50 onion storage buildings and packing sheds this winter.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

Onions are buried underneath debris and snow after this storage facility in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of snow and ice. The Idaho-Oregon onion industry faces a major rebuilding challenge following the collapse of more than 50 onion storage buildings and packing sheds this winter.

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Sean Ellis/Capital Press 
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of onions were lost when this onion storage shed in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. About 50 storage sheds and packing facilities have collapsed.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press Hundreds of thousands of pounds of onions were lost when this onion storage shed in Nyssa, Ore., collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow. About 50 storage sheds and packing facilities have collapsed.

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ONTARIO, Ore. — The onion industry has yet to tally the cost of the damage caused by the collapse of dozens of onion buildings in the Treasure Valley area of Idaho and Oregon.

But it’s massive and the industry faces many challenges in rebounding from the disaster.

That became clear during a special panel discussion held during the Idaho-Oregon onion industry’s annual meeting Feb. 7 to address topics related to the damage.

More than 50 onion storage buildings and packing sheds have collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow and ice this winter.

Some people estimate the total damage could be near $100 million.

When local insurance agent John Forsyth, one of the panelists, asked how many people suffered losses due to the collapses, about 50 of the 60 people present raised their hands.

“It’s pretty much hit everybody,” Forsyth said.

“Right now, everybody is so busy it’s almost overwhelming,” said panelist Martin Koch, an insurance agent.

One of the big unanswered questions is how many people who suffered losses had basic insurance, which does not cover structure collapses due to the weight of snow and ice, and how many had more comprehensive coverage that does.

“We are hearing all kinds of stories about people having basic coverage,” Koch said.

Another questions is whether those people who did have adequate coverage, especially older farmers, are going to decide to rebuild or just take the cash value from their insurance claim, said panelist Doug Lamm, a certified public accountant.

Snake River Produce Manager Kay Riley, the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee’s marketing order chairman, said the damage has the potential to cause a major disruption in the region’s onion industry.

“It’s a huge concern,” he said. “How are we going to accommodate next year’s crop without these buildings and storages being put back? There’s no way all the buildings that have fallen down are going to be fixed.”

Whether those who do choose to rebuild will do so in the state they are currently in is another unknown, Lamm said.

Several onion shippers have told Capital Press in the past year that they may move to Idaho because of Oregon’s higher minimum wage.

Tens of millions of onions in the buildings when they collapsed are damaged and growers must dispose of them.

Members of the audience asked whether those onions would be covered at the market price at the time of injury or at the current, higher price.

Insurance agents said they were unsure but Riley said that depends entirely on how the insurance policy was written.

Four of Snake River Produce’s buildings collapsed but Riley said, “It appears our coverage was quite good. We feel pretty good about where it’s headed.”

He said he’s heard stories about other people who didn’t have adequate coverage but those are only rumors for now.

How quickly the damaged buildings can be rebuilt is another question because a couple hundred structures have collapsed around the region and there aren’t enough contractors in the area to handle all the work this year.

“There are probably not going to be enough contractors to get (all the onion buildings) put back before this fall’s harvest,” Koch said.



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