Cancel OK

A Fresh Take on Potatoes and Onions

What variety and innovation look like for two stalwart staples

A weakened dollar as well as shortfalls in production in other regions of the world were among the factors contributing to the rise. The export total represented approximately 20 percent of all U.S. potato production, or 71.8 million hundredweight of potatoes (frozen and dehydrated potatoes together accounted for 84 percent of this figure).

Today, the United States is the world’s third leading producer of onions, behind China and India. Washington, California, and Idaho/Eastern Oregon lead the nation in planted acreage. Of the three, the largest producer of processing onions by volume is the region of southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon, at 1.7 billion pounds in 2016, according to the National Onion Association.


The cultivation of potatoes began as early as 8,000 B.C. with the rise of pre-Incan civilization, in what is now known as Peru. Potatoes were valued as a dependable food source during those earliest of days and for numerous uses, including as a measurement of time.

The staple vegetable has indeed stood the test of time: it is commercially produced today in over 100 countries worldwide, and reigns supreme among all major food crops for providing the most food per units of land and water used.

What’s more, Peru continues to play an important role in potato growing and research, leading Latin America in production and, significantly, housing the International Potato Center in its capital city, Lima. In addition, the surrounding Andean highlands are home to a staggering 4,000 varieties of native potatoes.

Like potatoes, the appeal of onions continues to be strong as well, and “Onions are everywhere”—says the National Onion Association, based in Greeley, CO. Alas, the assertion can hardly be questioned as flavorful onions (whether yellow, red, or white) are universal in their appeal.

A dietary staple since prehistoric times, onions originated in Central Asia. By the Middle Ages, they had become one of the three main vegetables consumed by Europeans; they were also planted by Pilgrims shortly after setting foot in the New World (though wild onions were already prevalent throughout North America).

Following near break-even prices for growers in the 2016-17 season due to higher yields and sizes, 2017-18 appears to hold better pricing prospects amidst a smaller crop. John Vlahandreas, national onion sales manager for Wada Farms Marketing Group, LLC in Idaho Falls, says summer growing conditions were not ideal due to “too many heat units and not enough cool nights.” Nevertheless, the quality of the crop is not questioned and should be able to meet the season’s high demand.

Remaining profitable as a producer and packager of onions is a constant concern. Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association, was quick to point out that onion growing and selling occurs among what he characterizes as a very globalized community.