Global rise in onion consumption offers big opportunities for onion cultivation

Last week an international group participated in the Hazera study tour in California. Here the onion breeding, production, processing and sales in California (US) were topical. The tour started on April 18 with presentations from Ben de Nijs (Regional Product Manager Onion) and Bob Munger (Commercial Manager US) spoke about Hazera's American activities, the company has a market share of 12% in the global onion seed market.

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"Our hybrid varieties are the result of decades of research and include the total assortment of extra long day onions, such as the Dutch Rijnbergers including the planting onions, long day onions - divided into hard globe and Spanish, the intermediate day, the short day onions and wintering onions. We offer white, red, pink and yellow onions in these categories for the various geographical areas with the different climate conditions," says Ben, who is the link between breeding and sales as the project manager. The sales of Hazera onions seeds to growers is mainly done through distributors (traders) who are well spread across the huge country with their sales teams.

Ben de Nijs in an archive photo in the Netherlands

Break through varieties
"Before Hazera markets varieties they are carefully screened for essential characteristics such as reliability, high yield, hardness, uniformity and continuity for the grower. We now offer onions globally with the best storage ability that also give a high yield. Our breakthrough varieties were Centro and Dormo (extra long day) and Taresco (long day). Although the product characteristics for short day onions is slightly different, we see that hardness and skin are also becoming important aspects for this crop type. These aspects make the onion suitable for mechanical harvest."

Bob Munger

Bob Munger - active in the American seed business for 40 years - explained more about the American onion cultivation, which now covers over 45,000  hectares. The largest cultivation areas are located in the states Washington, Idaho, California, Texas and Georgia. A lot of onions are grown for the domestic market, but some cultivation areas have a fixed deduction that goes abroad, including Asia from the Pacific north west (Washington, Oregon and Idaho). There is also import, in particular from countries like Peru. The cultivation of organic onions shows a gradual growth. Although the flat onions and pink onions are a niche market, they are strong markets that are increasingly foreseeing a need.
Hazera's breeding programme in California breeds yellow and red onions with the focus on the American market. Testing fields are in California, Texas, Georgia, but also in Mexico. In Mexico the white onions is popular, which is why Hazera focuses on it there. Breeder Pablo indicated at Hazera's demo field in California that patience is vital to breeding. "It can take three to five years to develop a hybrid, but it can be up to twenty before a variety is fully commercial. The different weather conditions take care of different needs. In Texas and Mexico there can sometimes be a lot of rain, here in California there is a shortage."

Breeder Pablo

Because the American onions mainly find their way to the processing industry, the criteria are different from elsewhere in the world. In contrast to the European cultivation the storage life of short day onions is a less important criteria. "A variety can look great, but if it doesn't give production, it will be a no-go," the breeder explained. The skin tightness is also becoming an increasingly important item. "Due to the rising labour costs we can't continue harvesting by hand for the fresh market here. We are working hard on the development of a short day onions which an be harvest mechanically, but we are not the only ones."

Disease resistance
Disease resistance is also an important point of attention. The predecessors of Hazera started developing disease resistance in 1986. "The introduction of high resistance again false mildew, a destructive disease which can destroy a full harvest, was a break through. Our variety Santero, which has this resistance, was also welcomed by organic growers, who were bothered by false mildew. At the moment we are anticipating the increasing global disease pressure by developing varieties with resistance to Pink Root and Fusarium. Our recent introduction, Miss Scarlett, is doing reasonably well in Pinkroot affected soils. An added advantage is that the variety is very early, which means it can be on the fresh red market early."

Concluding the tour, Ben de Nijs gave a presentation on the global opportunities of the onions, in terms of area - 2,500,000 hectares / 80 million tonne - the second vegetable in the world and in terms of global trade, the biggest product. "Populations are rising fastest in areas where a lot of onions are consumed, in which Libya is the leader. This is why it is our expectation that the average consumption will rise from the 6.2 kg currently eat per person, to 9.5 kg in 2050. This growth in the onion consumption offers big opportunities for the onion cultivation. We also foresee a strong consumption growth of red onions in particular and expect the onion to play a more important role in convenience food."

Source Hazera Sedd for growth
03 May 2016