US onion farmers struggle with loss of customers

US onion farmers destroyed crops or struggled to complete harvests in the past two weeks after many regular customers closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Growers in Oregon destroyed millions of pounds of onions, while those in Texas said they were close to harvest time with half their normal buyers, and had to leave crops in the field.

In Georgia, Vidalia onion growers said they still had retail customers, but workers were slowed by isolation restrictions. They continued to harvest, but with much higher costs. And onion growers everywhere anxiously awaited more details about how to apply for government aid.

Onion grower Shay Myers in western Oregon said he dug trenches and buried 4 million pounds that were nearing the end of their storage time in the last two weeks. "This region, the Snake River Valley, is hit hard because we grow primarily for food service, and that market dried up when everything closed," said Myers, the CEO of Owyhee Produce. "We've tried to find other buyers. We sent some for cattle feed and some to food banks, but there are no other options.”

He said demand spiked in March as shoppers stocked up to stay home, but retail sales have dropped to 25 percent of normal in recent weeks.

The Trump administration said Friday that $2.7 billion would go to the fruit and vegetable industry to help cover some of the overwhelming losses related to the pandemic. That support is divided, with $2.1 billion allocated for direct payment to growers and $100 million per month for the next six months for produce purchases.

According to upi.com, the funds are to come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act, which President Trump signed into law March 27.


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