Walla Walla sweet onions are turning “green” as the industry implements sustainability measures.
“We have some of our farms that are certified through Sustainable Agricultural Practices,” said Dan Borer, general manager of Walla Walla, Wash.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc.
“We’re going in that direction as much as possible.”
And not just in the Walla Walla onion deal, he said.
“In some of our growing areas, like in Peru, we have Rainforest Alliance industry certificate,” he said.
“In all areas we grow in, we’re becoming more cognizant of that and we’re moving more in that direction as fast as we can.”
In Hermiston, Ore., River Point Farms LLC is taking a multi-pronged approach to sustainability, said Stefan Matheny, product development and research manager.
“We want to look at all three sections of our business — farming, packing and processing,” he said.
“Obviously, we’re working on the farm division to keep our process going and keep the quality and keep growing on the same land and doing it in a greener fashion. With transportation and running greener trucks and from our growing habits to our packaging and distribution, it’s definitely a main topic we focus on.”
It helps to be ahead of the sustainability curve, said Mike Locati, chairman of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee and owner of Walla Walla-based Locati Farms.
“We happen to be certified sustainable by the Food Alliance out of Portland,” he said of his own operation.
“We’re the only Walla Walla sweet onion grower that’s certified by Food Alliance. A medium portion of our onions are marketing with the Food Alliance label. The Locati Farms label is used for anything we do for Food Alliance. The rest is marketed through our regular suppliers.”
Some growers are addressing chemical issues as a means of becoming more Earth-friendly.
“Personally, I’ve kind of gotten away from the commercial-type pesticides and moved to organic-type pesticides and fungicides,” said Robert Castoldi, owner of Castoldi Farms in Walla Walla.
“People have gone to planting a canola and plowed under and save on fertilizer. Commercial fertilizer is a big aspect of growing Walla Walla sweet onions. I think you trade sometimes for size when you do that.”
While the industry as a whole is attempting to be greener, one company’s approach may differ from another’s, Castoldi added.
“Everybody’s interpretation is different,” he said. “We try to do as little pesticides as possible, but you’ve got to have a crop.”
Being judicious and proactive with the chemical regimen is central to that philosophy, Castoldi said.
“You’ve got to stop things before they happen, and our operation is fairly small, so we can’t rotate crops as much as we’d like,” he said. “The bigger outfits do a lot of rotating.”
The chemical issue can be thorny, said Ben Cavalli, owner of Cavalli’s Onion Acres in Walla Walla.
“I know all the chemicals we’re using have completely changed. It’s not like what it used to be,” he said.
“Usually, some of it is just hours in the field. A lot of it is biodegradable. It doesn’t carry in the soil. It’s gone. And some of it they’ve taken off the market.”