Oldershaw reviews this year's challenges

The coldest winter for years, the driest spring and summer in recent history and a principally wet harvest period have made 2010 a challenging year for British onion growers.

This was the claim of the new chairman of the British Onion Producers' Association (BOPA), Robert Oldershaw, who described last year's crop as "vintage" but this year's as "variable".

He said: "This year, producers' optimism should err on the side of caution as the weather conditions have overridden any prospect of quality matching that of the previous season. Although there is sufficient crop to meet demand in the immediate and short term, supplies later in the season are predicted to be tight."

Oldershaw continued: "The early set crop was harvested in near perfect conditions and is among the best the industry has seen for several years. But stocks are coming to an end, with growers furiously trying to condition the late harvested drilled crop ready for sale.

"Throughout the summer water became a scarce commodity, with growers having to make difficult decisions about which crops to irrigate. Coupled with the very cold winter, the drilled crop was always going to be late, but the rain since mid September has delayed harvest by at least a further four weeks."

Oldershaw explained that those onions that were harvested before the autumn rains came were, in general, smaller than average and of good quality. However, those onions harvested since the rain will have higher levels of staining on them, in contrast to last year's "near perfect" skin finish.

"Yields for these crops are better but have the trade-off of inevitably lower pack out due to external appearance and the increased risk of secondary breakdown. Long-term storability is a little unknown for the last 20 per cent harvested, after sitting in waterlogged fields for several weeks."

LOOKING AHEAD - 2011

Oldershaw said the situation was, if anything, more difficult on the continent, with similar weather patterns in all the major onion-producing countries. The Dutch crop in particular, with the country's generally heavier soils, will result in high levels of staining and secondary breakdown due to the excessive amounts of water.

"It is fair to say that last year's global shortage caught everyone in the industry out after predictions of a plentiful supply," he pointed out. "That said, the BOPA is looking ahead to 2011 and investing in a marketing campaign aimed at giving British onions an identity as well as communicating the versatility, nutritional and health attributes, and British provenance of the onion."

The campaign will be run by specialist food and drink agency Phipps PR, which is also tasked with revamping www.onions.org.uk. The aim is to give consumers easier access to recipes and facts as well as a greater understanding of the British onion market.


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