Way out in Shavano Valley beyond cell service at the end of a dirt road, farm workers race the fall frost to pick yellow onions from the rural Western Slope soil bound for supermarkets across the United States in time for holiday recipes and dinner tables.
Onion farmers across Colorado know that have only a few days, hours really, to get their crop topped, collected, bagged, and stored before overnight temperatures drop below freezing beginning Sunday night.
Onions can handle a little frost, but much more beyond that and the crop could be too damaged to harvest.
"It looks like Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night it's going to freeze, that's why we're on the hustle," said farmer John Harold. "As they say in the farming industry we're balls to the walls."
Harold whose company Tuxedo Corn grows the popular Olathe Sweet brand sweet corn, is one of many producers on the West Slope working to get yellow, white, and red onions out of the ground before Sunday's expected freeze.
According to the National Onion Association, farmers in the United States plant approximately 125,000 acres of onions each year and produce about 6.75 billion pounds of onions annually.
Earlier this month days of rain prevented workers from harvesting the onion fields. Some farmers hired helicopters to hover just above their fields with the intent to dry the ground so the workers could begin harvest.
"As a farmer you can't complain about moisture, but it sure did set us back and it's what put us in the bind that we're in now," Harold said.
Colorado is one of the largest producers of onions by volume in the United States. This is due to the state's ideal climate for growing and storing onions throughout the fall and winter months.
According to the National Onion Association, farmers in the United States plant approximately 125,000 acres of onions each year and produce about 6.75 billion pounds of onions annually. Colorado's higher altitude and colder winter months keep insect and plant diseases at a minimum, thereby reducing pesticide use and ensuring high-quality onions, according to Colorado State University.
Storage onions are generally harvested and shipped from September through March with other specialty varieties available seasonally.
Back in Montrose County, Harold is using multiple farm crews working alternating shifts day and night to get onions from the field into a sorting center, into 50-pound bags, and onto awaiting transport trucks.
This fall Harold is expecting to move seven to eight million pounds of onions to buyers ready to fill orders ahead of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
"You'll see in about 15 or so days the Thanksgiving push start where a lot of onions get sold, then there is a little slack and then the Christmas push-starts and then you lollygag through January until fresh onions come out of Mexico," Harold said.
Most of the onions produced by Harold and his company are bound for restaurant suppliers who buy and ship millions of pounds of onions around the country. This year, even as water shortage issues loom over the agriculture industry in Western Colorado, Harold said he's beginning to see more seed suppliers move back to the West Slope, which to him, is a good sign that demand and production remains strong for Western Slope grown food.