First ever red sweet onions out of Walla Walla

The first harvest of red sweet onions ever to come out of Walla Walla is expected to commence in about a month's time. It's been five years in the making, but finally commercial volumes are in the fields and so far conditions have been favorable. 

"This is the first year that Walla Walla will be producing red sweet onions," said Jose Pedroza of Walla Walla River Packing Company. "Harvest is expected to begin on July 10, and the crop is looking good so far. We won't really know for sure until harvest is underway, and being the first commercial crop, we do not have anything to compare it to yet."

Pedroza explained that the Walla Walla district is ideal for growing red sweet onions due to the ideal level of daylight and moisture. "Red sweets require a lot of daylight and here in Walla Walla, we enjoy long days during the summer," he began. "We also have an ideal amount of rainfall here. The moderate amount of rainfall is good and if we need more, we can irrigate the soil to get the desired level of moisture the onions require as they do not like to be too wet."

He added that the red sweets have one significant difference compared to their yellow cousins when it comes to growing them. "The red sweets are open pollinators," he said. "This means we need to make sure no other varieties are growing nearby. This ensures the genes that give them the red color remains. Other than that, we take care of them in much the same way as we do the yellow varieties." 

Hoping to emulate yellow sweet's success
For Washington growers, the yellow sweet onions have led to great success, as demand is excellent for this variety. Growers of the red sweet onions are hoping that consumers will identify with them as they have done with the yellow sweet onions.

"The yellow sweet onions, which will begin their season on June 9, are incredibly popular," Pedroza noted. "There is a great anticipation for them at the start of every season and as a result, the market is typically very hot for them. Hopefully, this will cross over in the red sweets as well and they take off. We are looking to pair them up with the yellows and see how the market reacts. Both varieties are comparable in size and shape and consumers should see a resemblance in flavor." 

Natural curing process
Another point of difference from the yellow sweet onions is how growers will deal with the red sweets after they're harvested. Typically, the onions would go into a 900lb wooden box and get taken to the packing house where they are cured with forced air dryers. However, for the red sweets, growers are going to let them cure naturally in the open air before being taken in. 

"It's going to be a little different than what we're used to," said Pedroza. "Once harvested, we will place the red sweets in a gunny sack and allow them to naturally cure out in the field. We predict that this will give them a deeper red color which is more appealing to consumers. It will be a learning process to determine as to how long they will be left there, but we are thinking that three to five days will be sufficient, depending on the weather. As the season progresses, we will be working to perfect such factors."

Pedroza concluded by highlighting the work that has gone into making red sweet onions from Walla Walla a reality. "The part owner of this business has put five years of effort into isolating the seed that gives the red color," he shared. "We want people to be aware and to appreciate just how much effort growers have put into it. Our hope is that the red sweet onions will be just as popular as the yellow sweets and we are very excited to be a part of this." 

For more information:
Jose Pedroza
Walla Walla River Packing Co.
Tel: +1 (509) 526-7117

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