'Great escape' for onion growers

The 2013 season proved to be "the great escape" for UK onion growers given the challenges at its start, British Onions chairman and Suffolk grower John Patrick told the Onion & Carrot Conference (20-21 November).

Red onion: product has been gaining steadily in production share
Red onion: product has been gaining steadily in production share
"It's a credit to the skills and tenacity of the industry that we avoided the worst," he said, despite a 10-12 per cent slump in forecast gross tonnage. "Early growth was slow, waste was higher than expected and even now some remains to be harvested. But it will meet customers' size and quality requirements."

The sown area was close to the average for the past decade, but red onions have gained steadily in production share, he said. "We never quite manage to fulfil market demand for reds." He expects prices to "remain firm" with "tight" demand from retailers and processors.

Dr Hans-Christoph Behr, head of horticulture at German market information provider AMI, said overall EU onion production is down six per cent on last year. "The Netherlands is keeping Europe's onion ship afloat by exporting to non-EU nations and they've had an average year," he said. "Demand in Europe is very inelastic."

Behr added that Europe will still need to "fill the gap" with southern hemisphere imports. "But these have declined in recent years as they reorient trade to nearer markets," he added.

Onion season view

"With the recent wet weather, some growers have had to hand harvest to get in the last of the crop. The trend towards bigger machinery can have its disadvantages - even when you can get on the land, you risk compaction. Part of the lateness this year was due to growers not being able to prepare the ground last autumn."

Bruce Napier, National Institute of Agricultural Botany

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