Extreme heat in Pacific Northwest ruined crops of sweet onions, devastating small farmers

Sweet onions.
(Image credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images)

The brutal heatwave that hit the Pacific Northwest in June devastated several farms in Washington that grow sweet onions, with some seeing nearly all of their crops ruined.

Scientists say the extreme heat event was due to climate change. Onions can thrive in warm weather, but when the temperature hit 120 degrees, Fernando Enriquez Sr. of Enriquez Farms in Walla Walla saw that the tops of his onions were blistered and baked. By the next day, the thousands of onions in the field that hadn't been harvested were ruined, as were most of the seeds that would have been used to plant next year's crop. "There was nothing we could save," he told The Seattle Times.

His son, Fernando Enriquez Jr., said the family lost about 98 percent of their crop. Because of the pandemic, they had scaled back their operation, growing only 40 acres of onions in 2021 compared to 140 acres in 2020. The heat wave was "unprecedented," he told the Times. "I was born and raised here in the valley, my parents have been in this valley for over 50 years, and it's just never that hot at the beginning of June."

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Walla Walla Organics owner Sarah McClure told the Times that many of her onions were sunburned and their growth was stunted because of how hot it has been. When there is "114 degree heat for days and days," she said, it's "hard" on onions. The farmers are all concerned about what the future holds, with Enriquez Jr. saying if his farm is unable to get federal aid, his family will only be able to grow about two or three acres of onions in 2022. Read more at The Seattle Times.

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