In some fields, the onions are packed into burlap bags to cure in the August sun. In others, they lie in the open air along furrows, their outer layers forming a dry, paper skin.
It is harvest time for much of the onion crop in Ventura County. Although dwarfed in size and economic importance by the local lemons and strawberries, onions were the county’s 10th-largest cash crop last year. Growers harvested 19,998 tons, with a gross value of $9.48 million, according to the county agricultural commissioner’s office.
This year’s unusually high rainfall and humidity have caused some problems for growers of dry onions, said Pete Nyarady, operations manager of Rio Farms. High humidity can cause mildew.
“They like warm, dry weather,” he said. “Coastal fog is rough on onions.”
For green onions, however, the weather has been fine, said Don Hobson, sales manager of Boskovich Farms. Green onions are harvested by hand. One 30-acre Oxnard field has about 250 people yanking onions from the earth and bunching them together, Hobson said.
Dry onions, however, must cure in the sun before going to market. The length of time they sit in the field depends on the temperature and humidity, but usually a week will do, Nyarady said.
The large number of people needed to harvest green onions may be one reason more aren’t grown in the county, Hobson said. And while much of the harvest work for dry onions can be done by machines, Nyarady said, the dry onions take longer to grow than other crops.
“It’s not a fast turnaround,” he said.
About 1,300 acres worth of onions were planted in the county last year, according to the agricultural commissioner’s office.
Many of the onions grown locally are bound for the domestic market, for use in salsa and other prepackaged foods. But some go international. Earlier this week, Boskovich flew a shipment from Los Angeles International Airport to England, Hobson said.