Onions piled as long as a football field fill a Franklin County agriculture warehouse, and now two more warehouses are under construction to store the same amount of crops.
Premier Seed is doubling its capacity to keep onions or potatoes in a climate-controlled environment. The $2.5 million project is underway at the company’s location on Ione Road, north of Pasco, near the Sagemoor railroad.
Just like the current warehouse, the new facility will be split into two halves totaling 67,000 square feet, with the ability to hold 20,000 tons of potatoes, or 12,000 tons of onions.
Premier Seed stores the crops for other farmers in the region, as well as its own. On average, onions and potatoes can be held up to 10 months in a controlled-climate environment maintained by a computerized fan house.
If necessary, the warehouse can be heated to 100 degrees or chilled to 32 degrees within a couple of days. The sea of dehydrated onions in the existing warehouse are kept just above freezing. This particular onion variety is intended for onion powder.
Construction on the warehouse got underway in October with a goal of finishing by February. Workers from contractor Teton West Construction of Rigby, Idaho, have been going at a fast pace, laying yards and yards of rebar and pouring an entire 380-by-70-foot concrete floor for one-half of the warehouse pair in a single day.
The rush is to get critical portions of the building completed before snow or ice could put construction on hold.
The Franklin County warehouse site is also the location of Alford Farms and JCAg, which both grow potatoes for french fry processors like Simplot.
James Alford’s management of Alford Farms continues a family tradition that began with his grandfather, Clayton Alford, in the 1950s before being handed down to Alford’s father, Bryan. James Alford also owns JCAg with his wife.
Both companies focus on growing crops, while Premier Seed is named for the cutting of potato seed to prepare for planting.
Each year, the growers plant 2,000 acres of potatoes, with an average yield around 37 tons. Most of the crops from Alford and JCAg go directly to the processors without the need for storage on site.
The new buildings won’t result in a direct addition of jobs at the farms. The companies employ more than 40 people during seed planting time, and maintain about 15 workers year round. Employees tasked with monitoring crop storage keep an eye on ventilation run through the fan house, which adjusts for indoor and outdoor humidity.
Built with a half moon-shaped metal roof, the agriculture storage warehouses include a catwalk positioned below the ceiling allowing employees to walk above the crops and look for any sagging spots.
When full, onions may be stacked 12 feet high in the building, and potatoes 20 feet high. The smooth concrete floor includes ventilation slots throughout the length of the building that serve to aerate and cool the crops.
Before the benefit of modern design, farmers used to store potatoes directly in the ground with a roof overhead, relying on simple ventilation tubes and the cool of the earth to maintain the product. But this prevented extended storage, like the 10-month potential offered by Premier Seed.
James Alford said the first warehouse he ordered from Teton West was built in 2012 and the farm’s property could fit at least two more. Teton West Construction holds the proprietary rights to the building’s design.
Alford figures he will wait another five years before ordering his next storage facility, sharing with a laugh, “I don’t want to be debt free for too long. It gets boring.”
Information: Premier Seed is at 380 Ione Road, Pasco; 509-545-4262; alfordfarms.com.