Science Into Practice - Impact of irrigation on onion crops

An estimated 85 per cent of Rijnsburger dry bulb onion crops are irrigated following a recent move in the industry to production on light soils to improve quality and aid crop management. But there is little scientific evidence to support current irrigation practices and some growers are concerned that they may be compromising crop yield, quality and storage.

HDC project FV 326a builds on previous work (FV 326) that suggested irrigation has a significant impact on crop performance. It is extending the original study to a field trial on a commercial scale together with a trial in a rain shelter over three seasons.

The trials continue to support previous work in FV 326 and FV 326a. Onions respond well to water, with more frequent applications of smaller amounts driving canopy development and crop vigour more than typical applications of around 25mm every seven-to-10 days, resulting in slightly increased yields.

Water stress during the main canopy development period - up to bulb initiation - can significantly reduce yield potential by 20-30 per cent. Continuing to irrigate to 50 per cent fall-over can increase yield by around 18 per cent over a typical "increased stress" regime implemented from egg-size bulb stage.

Although commercial experience suggests that late water affects storage, analysis of 2010 post-storage samples indicated little quality reduction as a result.

The annual grower summary for FV 326a is available on the HDC website

Date for your diary

17 April, HDC/Cut Flower Centre Conference, Spalding.

Horticultural Development Company

For details on all HDC activity, visit

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