Porter Farms knows its onions
Phillip Porter of Steele, N.D., and his wife, Melissa, have taken over a growing and storing business that supplies onions for her the fresh vegetable kit enterprises that her father has grown at Long Prairie, Minn.
DAWSON, N..D. — And now, it’s Porter Farms.
Phillip Porter, 38, for a decade has been raising onions with his father in-law, Monte Benz of Steele, N.D. Porter is taking over supplying onions to Benz’ vegetable business “Kidco Farms” and its Minnesota Fresh facility at Long Prairie, Minn.
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Porter and his wife, Melissa, in 2020, have put up a state-of-the-art storage facility at Dawson. The goal is for storing onions about 10 months out of the year.
The new warehouse is 216 feet long and holds up to 3.7 million pounds of onions, piled 70 feet wide and 12 feet high. The floor is 6 inches thick and provided with slots that deliver air conditioning. It has a 2.8 million BTU burner for curing and winter storage. Porter is on site every day but can monitor and control dewpoint and humidity, temperature continuously from his smartphone..
It’s a substantial investment, Porter acknowledges, but he feels comfortable with it.
Porter grew up at Tintah, Minn., and met Melissa, at North Dakota State College of Science, in Wahpeton, N.D., where he studied diesel mechanics. He married Melissa in 2003 and moved to the Steele-Dawson area in 2009. The couple started their own farming operation in 2012, in coordination with Benz.
In 2020, they took on responsibility for growing and storing the onions.
Porter grows 70 to 80 acres of irrigated onions near Dawson, He also raises wheat and soybeans in a three-year rotation.
Porter Farms is only one of two onion producers of their size in the state.
Most of Porter’s production goes to Kidco, but some are on the “open market.”
The majority for Kidco Farms are 2.25 to 3.5 inches in diameter — roughly the size of a baseball.
Oversized and undersized onions are sold in the open market.
Onion growing requires intense management because the onion is a poor competitor for weeds and there are few herbicide choices. "If you see the issue, you’ve got to act now or you’ve already missed your window to take care of the issue," Porter said.
Currently, Porter’s onions have no serious insect pests in this areas. But even small hail is a major threat.
The 2020 crop season was very good for growing onions.
“Hot and dry is really nice for us,” Porter said. "Growers use the irrigation to put the amount of water down that you need.”
In a cooler, wetter year, the onions don’t grow as fast, inviting weed competition..
“In the fall, we want hot and dry to help cure them down in the fields,” he said. Onions put in storage go through a two-week cure time. which is controlled with temperature and moisture, which involves science, art and luck.
The idea is get the outside dried, which is aided by in-floor aeration. That way they don’t have to put them in the warehouse green and spend a bunch of money on propane. But they can, if they have to.