March 2019 - 16

Grower-bred red onions expand Walla Walla brand
By Stephen Kloosterman
Associate Editor
A 10-year effort by a dedicated grower
has yielded an onion of a different color
from the Walla Walla Valley.
This year, fourth-generation grower
Michael J. Locati debuted Walla Walla
onions that are light red - he's calling
it a rosé, like the wine. The pink
exterior color continues with every
layer inside the onion.
" It started probably sometime
The partners of Pacific Agrifarms include, from left, Art Villa, Luke Hamada, Harry
Hamada, Michael Locati and Vidal Pedroza. Photos: Michael Locati
back in 2007-2008 when we were
harvesting our regular sweet onions, "
he said. " I noticed a few off-color
pinkish ones, and over the years tried
to get that darker and darker without
sacrificing that sweet flavor that is
attributed to a Walla. "
Walla Walla onions are sweet onions
identified as a unique variety grown
in the Walla Walla Valley of southeast
Washington and northeast Oregon,
according to the commodity's federal
marketing order.
Locati was a college student at the
time he discovered the first off-color
onion, and regarded the breeding as a
" fun project " rather than a commercial
effort. Onions take two years to
produce seed, and for the first while he
wasn't sure if he had anything.
" Natural selection allows for a
Never throw
a Styrofoam
tray away
ever again
pigment to take dominance of the
onion originally, " Locati said. " I just
exploited that pigment through handselection
of the ones that were darker.
It's just a little trial and error. "
Like many other tasks at a farm,
breeding the new onion trait required
persistence and optimism.
A cured red Walla Walla in storage.
" Customers seem to
be really drawn to it. It
just seems to add a little
something different to it. "
− Michael J. Locati,
Locati Farms
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the biggest thing in farming, " Locati
said. " It's easy to get negative when
things go bad because Mother Nature
is in control. You'll have setbacks. I
remember one year I had a bunch of
seed picked out and I was ready to
plant it. I was busy with work or had to
go to a meeting or something and my
dad ended up accidentally throwing
away a year's worth of work. Those
things happen, though. You can't dwell
on them and get mad. "
A decade later, Locati has finished
college, earning from Washington
State University a bachelor's degree
in agriculture technology and
production. He's also taken the helm
16 |
of the family farm and Locati Farms
(established in 1905) has joined up
with Pacific Agri Farms, a partnership
with five other growers in the area.
Locati said the group had 500 acres
of sweet onions in the Walla Valley.
He declined to say how many acres
were planted with the new rosé onion
in 2018, but said they would double
commercial production of the onions
in the next year. The rosé Walla Walla
onions will be packed under his
family brand, Locati Farms, and will
be available wholesale from Keystone
Fruit Marketing and retail through the
family website,
The onions are planted in
September and harvested late June to
early July. The first crop sold this fall
seemed to generate some interest.
" Customers seem to be really drawn
to it, " he said. " It just seems to add a
little something different to it. "
There are a variety of other red onions
on the market, and a growing number
of sweet onion varieties have been
developed. But Locati's onion would be
the first Walla Walla onion that's red.
" It's our niche within a niche, "
Locati said. VGN
An immature red Walla Walla from the field.

March 2019

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