OPINION The National Onion Association’s membership works hard to keep their operations sustainable. From the use of onion as a raw “onion power” to power facilities, to protecting workers and the land, America’s onion farmers work hard every day to create the most sustainable programs possible.

It’s not only right for the country, but for their families as they continue to feed America. For Earth Day remember the onion farmer, and his or her contributions to keeping the Earth healthy while they help feed America.

There are numerous great examples of sustainable practices in the onion world.

  • Ten years ago Gills Onions in California created a system whereby it uses onion remains — tops, skins and stems — to create energy, a system that now has generated more than 25 gigawatt hours of electricity. That’s enough power to supply a year’s worth of power to 460 residential homes. The Advanced Energy Recovery System provides 100 percent of the base electrical load of the Gills processing plant in Oxnard, California. Gills is working to achieve greater efficiency and energy independence.
  • Our farmers continue to close in on the idea of zero waste. There are continually new ways of using all the onion. Tops and stems are used in production facilities. “Culls” left over in the field are used for sheep feed and shredded for cattle crazing.
  • Fashion designers in New York are using onion skins as natural dyes for fabrics. A group of students working with the Fragmentario studio in New York City will unveil its onion fabrics during NY Textile Month in September.
  • Gumz Farms in Endeavor, Wisconsin, has installed a high-tech humidity- and temperature-controlled circulation system, which allows it to store onions longer and reduce waste. Gumz also is a member of the Healthy Grown program in Wisconsin, which ensures their commitment to sustainability.
  • America’s onion farmers work diligently to keep soils healthy to grow the best products to put on the table. They follow researchers from around the world to implement best practices. “Many people think commercial agriculture hurts the land, but they don’t realize it’s in our best interest to keep the land as fertile as possible to continue to produce high-quality produce for generations to come,” said Dylan Dembeck of Minkus Family Farms in New York. “Not only are sustainable farming techniques good for the environment, they are also very good for farmers. We are able to achieve higher yields, better-quality product and decrease our overall chemical applications. These things are all better for the environment and they help farmers increase their bottom line to ensure they can continue to farm for many years to come.”
  • At Potandon Produce in Idaho, soil pH and nutrient levels are constantly monitored to reduce fertilizer use.
  • Minkus Family Farms in New York has installed solar panels to reduce its footprint. The owners have built 62 skylights in their warehouse, almost completely eliminating the need for lighting in the warehouse. They use exclusively LED lights. They use 10 large 20-foot fans to reduce building temperature to avoid as much air conditioning as possible.
  • Potandon Produce in Idaho recycles fresh water in an overall water-management plan, uses poly bags printed with water-based inks and uses only recycled materials in its master containers. Corrugated and cardboard containers are sourced from suppliers that are part of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Program.
  • Grimmway Farms in California has a 4.75 megawatt solar from to help power its facilities, along with a multifaceted sustainability program to reduce its footprint.
  • Fagerberg Farms in Eaton, Colorado, uses subsurface drip irrigation, an innovative watering practice that requires less water, fewer chemicals and more efficient applications. Fagerberg has been recognized in the farming industry for its sustainable farming practices.
  • In Glennville, Georgia, G&R Farms constantly monitors its varieties to obtain the best yields with the greatest efficiencies. Part of that is water management. “On the field side, we try to be very protective of the water, and make sure we don’t have any washing in the field or erosion,” said Cliff Riner of G&R Farms. “We put in cover corps in the off season to protect the till for the soil. Our goal is to use less and less fertilizer. We have to stay on top of the curve to provide the best product we can.”

Editor’s note: The new Agriculture Census, recently released, shows in Wisconsin there are 527 dry-onion farms and 343 green-onion farms, with a total of 1,829 acres for dry onions and 79 acres of green onions.

René Hardwick is the public- and industry-relations director for the National Onion Association, which was incorporated in 1913. It represents more than 500 onion growers, shippers, packers and suppliers throughout the United States. Visit www.onions-usa.org for more information.