Heavy snow has caused dozens of onion storage sheds in eastern Oregon and Idaho to collapse, resulting in as much as $100 million in damage.
About 50 onion buildings collapsed under the weight of up to 40 inches of snow, reported The Capital Press. The general manager of Owyhee Produce in Nyssa, Oregon, said three of the company’s storage sheds and a building housing one of its packing lines have collapsed.
“It’s an absolute catastrophe,” said Shay Myers, the Owyhee manager. He estimated that the total damage to the onion industry in southwestern Idaho and Malheur County, Oregon, could be near $100 million.
The region’s 300 onion farmers produce more than 1 billion pounds of Spanish big bulb onions annually, or about 25 percent of the nation’s big bulb storage onions. A big chunk of last year’s harvest, however, was lost in the building collapses. Once the onions are exposed to the cold and freeze, they are no good.
The production loss has dramatically increased the price of onions. A 50-pound bag of yellow jumbo onions was about $3.50 before the collapses and is now nearly $10.
Partners Produce co-owner Eddie Rodriguez said his company has lost four buildings, including its main packing line in Payette, Idaho.
“They’re still going down as we speak,” he said. “Now, it’s just happening everywhere. The snow is heavy and there’s too much of it.”
Onion industry leaders have asked state and local representatives to help find assistance for the region. An estimated 150 buildings have been destroyed.
“I’ve personally seen at least 40 collapsed buildings, probably more,” said state Rep. Cliff Bentz, an Ontario Republican. “It really looks like they were hit by a bomb. It’s really shocking.”
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, have asked the federal government to begin a process that would result in a federal disaster for Malheur County and other counties harmed by the severe winter. That would make farmers and businesses eligible for low-interest loans, insurance relief and other disaster aid.