OSU helps grow bigger onions with less environmental impact

onion in hand
Oregon is the nation's second-largest producer of onions, growing a quarter of total U.S. production. (Photo: Bob Rost)

New technology and decades of research pay off for Oregon's $116 million industry

Eastern Oregon onion farmers face a triple threat: precious little water, rising production costs and nitrogen deposits in soil and water left by fertilizers.

After more than 30 years of research at the Malheur Experiment Station near Ontario, OSU continues to peel back the unknowns about growing onions, while adding to existing layers of research by solving challenges in ways that are financially and environmentally advantageous. Thanks to OSU’s research, onions have grown so large that some now have earned the category of "super colossal." Since the early 1980s, Malheur County farmers have more than tripled onion plantings. And groundwater quality has also improved, as OSU research has offered ways to reduce fertilizer, pesticide and water use while producing onions so good they bring tears to your eyes. OSU has also led research to show E. coli bacteria do not enter furrow- and drip-irrigated onions. Growers are using the data to inform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as it proposes new food safety standards that could affect how onions are grown.

Oregon farmers sold $116 million worth of onions in 2012, making them the state's 10th most important crop.

Source: Clint Shock, director of the Malheur Experiment Station

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