Walla Walla sweet onion harvest kicks off this weekend

Walla Walla sweet onion harvest starts this weekend, says Michael J. Locati, chairman of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee.

Walla Walla sweet onion farmers start harvesting this weekend, the leader of the crop’s marketing committee says.

“They look good,” said Michael J. Locati, farmer and chairman of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee. “We’re excited for a pretty good season.”

Locati expects to start harvest Saturday.

About 10 to 15 farmers raise the niche onion on 500 total acres in Walla Walla County and a small part of northeastern Oregon. Walla Walla sweet onions are protected by a federal marketing order designating the legal production area.

Harvest runs through the middle or end of August. Average yield is roughly 650 50-pound units per acre.

Other than a minor windstorm that battered the crop in late April or early May, Locati said there have been no issues.

Onion sizes are trending towards jumbo size, about 3 inches and up in diameter, he said.

“The price right now is a good starting price,” Locati said. “Profitability, the margins are getting slimmer with the way labor costs have gone up, especially in Washington State.”

Locati is introducing a red Walla Walla sweet onion in “very limited production,” less than 5 percent of the yellow Walla Walla sweet crop. He’s been developing it for 10 years, he said, picking off-pigment onions during harvest and planting and raising the reddest ones.

“It’s not a deep red, I call it more of a rosé Walla Walla sweet,” he said. “It’s just another option. It’s a beautiful, kind of pinkish-hue onion, very mild. When you think of a red, you think of a hot onion. Great potential, for sure.”

Walla Walla River Packing Co. begins offering organic Walla Walla sweets for the first time this year, Locati said.

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