CSS Farms is eager to rebuild its 7,500-ton capacity onion storage shed in Pasco in anticipation of the fast-approaching growing season after a fire destroyed millions of last season’s red onions, many of which were committed to customers through April.
“We hope to rebuild for the 2018 season,” said Reagan Grabner, vice president of business development and part owner of CSS. “We’re counting on the use of that storage for the middle of June.”
Though the source of the shed’s fire has yet to be determined, Grabner speculated it likely was caused by a failure in either the heating system or an electrical component.
The fire was spotted from Highway 12 by a motorist around 3 a.m. Feb. 2. Crews from several area fire districts responded, containing the blaze by 4 a.m. No CSS employees were in the shed at the time.
The six acres of land and metal-framed 33,260-square-foot shed, built in 1989, at 4560 Venture Place are valued at more than $900,000, according to Franklin County assessor’s records.
Though the company’s insurance is still pending for the $3 million dollars in damages, Grabner has wasted no time in getting quotes for site cleanup and construction for a new storage shed.
Thanks to CSS’ five other storage sheds, Grabner said remaining customer orders were filled with uncommitted market stock on hand, and that CSS is investigating the prospect of selling salvageable onions from the shed fire to cattle feed manufacturers.
No workers will be laid off as a result of the damage, he said.
South Dakota-based CSS came to the Columbia Basin four years ago because “we knew it was the best place in the world to grow potatoes and we wanted to be a part of that,” Grabner said. He said the company also had prior experience with growing onions in California.
Upon arriving in the area, an unexpected opportunity presented itself with Fairview Organic Farm, in Arlington, Oregon, which primarily produces garbanzo beans for hummus, several ancient grain varieties, and sweet corn, in addition to potatoes and onions.
Grabner said the farm is unique for the area, and provided CSS the opportunity to meet increasing market demand for organic crops. “In all we do, we try to create solutions for our customers,” he said.
“It’s great to be a part of the organic industry and serve those customers … who really care about what you’re doing,” he said.
Grabner said the company’s focus on growing potatoes and onions in the region has developed over the past two years.
“We’re committed to excellence. …We’re a low-cost provider, but strive also to be high-quality,” he said.
Locally, CSS operates chip and seed potato and onion farms around the Columbia Basin and Pacific Northwest, employing about 190 employees in Pasco and another 30 throughout the region.
CSS was established in 1986 and has since grown to operate in 14 states. CSS was founded on the cultivation of chip, table, and seed potatoes, and expanded its repertoire to include several varieties of onion and an array of organic crops.
Grabner said CSS is a core supplier of onions to the Columbia Basin market.
“Most of our onions remain in North America — some of our best customers are in California and western Canada,” he said. As for potatoes, “most of our volume potatoes go to the Pacific Rim — Korea and Japan.”
He cited Lamb Weston and the local french fry industry as another element that attracted CSS to the region.
“Our first priority for 2018 is to fully execute on opportunities and deliver top-tier product to customers. And if we’re able to deliver on that, we hope it will give us continued opportunities to grow,” Grabner said.
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