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Dutch onion exporters see plenty of opportunities this season

The Dutch onion sector is once again getting ready for a new season. “Right now there’s a bit less demand than in previous years. The entire world appears to be recovering from last year, when many people lost money on onions. That hurts trust a bit. Demand is therefore a bit lower than in previous years,” says Lindert Moerdijk from MSP Uienhandel.

Yet the Dutch onion exporter from Zeeland remains optimistic. “I’m always positive. I expect plenty of export opportunities to arise this year. For now, it’s a bit exciting to see how the period until late September, early October will develop, with onions from the fields. The showers are quite bad occasionally, and we’ll know what that’s doing to the quality of the seed onions in November.”

“In any case, we’ll have a great mix of large and small sizes, and we’ll need both of them. Product availability won’t be the problem. There will certainly be demand, but for now, it is disproportionally distributed.” Lindert does not expect the Dutch onion area too increase too rapidly. “In the long term, I actually expect the onion area to become too small. We now all sometimes say our production is too large, but there are regularly problems with supplying plenty of good quality. That this wasn’t the case last year is a shame. But that this many onions grow globally in one year isn’t going to happen very often anymore either.”

According to the packer, the quality problem can be explained as well. “All onion packers grew from shed to shed. Process-wise that’s not very efficient. Everyone wants to transport their product via the motorway, but they all construct a provincial road they then speed across at 120 kilometres per hour. That’s hardly beneficial to the product. Besides, the manner in which quality is sorted hasn’t changed in the past 30 years.”

MSP is investing in a solution with a revolutionary onion factory, which should be finished next year. “A project that has helping the sector as its goal. During the design process, we carefully looked at how the architecture and production process can be combined. As yet, we are still mainly active on export markets, but I expect that with technique, this process will also become interesting for the retail channel. When it comes to sustainability, efficiency, food safety, gentle handling and quality, no supermarket will be able to ignore this,” Lindert says.

According to Lindert, competition will mostly come from the Netherlands itself next year. “When we are the only competitive country on a market such as Brazil, we tend to fight each other off said market. Everyone wants to defend or strengthen their position. And whether that will ever change? The onion trade is still primarily a free market, and that is what makes the trade so much fun.”

Piet van Liere:
“Fewer and fewer cowboys in onion trade”
Piet van Liere from FlevoTrade Dronten also sees plenty of opportunities. “I think everyone is quite negative, but I am not at all. In my opinion, there are plenty of export opportunities throughout the world. We can send onions to Africa, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Brazil and the Far East. It doesn’t look bad at all for export. I’m not saying the onions will be expensive, but there will be plenty of opportunities globally.”

“We’re seeing major differences in the harvest. In Europe, the consequences of the weather can be seen here and there, and yields aren’t great everywhere. In the Netherlands, we have great harvests in certain places, but also plots that have mediocre yields. The quality of the onions that have now been harvested is beautiful in colour and quality, but now – mid-September – 50 to 65 per cent of volume still has to be harvested. That’s a serious volume. It’ll be fine if the weather’s good, but if it continues to rain it could become challenging. Besides, fusarium is rearing its head in some places, but that’s clearly visible in the fields, and you have to be carefully selective when purchasing. In any case, there’s a good spread in the harvest, and opportunities for farmers are also for a fair, decent price.”

Although the organic area is increasing in the polders, it’s still a minimal activity for FlevoTrade. “The area is increasing, but it’s not yet the majority. Additionally, we’ve seen countries that buy onions are personally investing in growing organically.”

The total growth of the Dutch onion area is probably going to continue, according to the exporter. “Most growth can be expected besides the traditional cultivation areas. The onion area has been growing for more than ten years, and I think it will continue to rise slightly. More than that, if export continues to grow, we’ll have to start wondering if we’re still going to be able to grow all of those onions in the Netherlands. When there’s plenty of onions closer to home, you don’t have to import. But especially in border regions it’s easy to take the step to neighbouring countries.”

In Flevoland, people are anxiously awaiting the realisation of the FlevoKust Port in Lelystad. “It should be finished on 1 January. That’s positive to use, because it’ll give onion people in the central Netherlands an even more competitive position,” Piet says.

According to him, the onion world is moving more and more towards permanent relationships between growers, exporters and buyers. “We operate by the principle of one customer per market, and we build a supply chain with that customer. Partnership is the magic word, and we set the chain up together, and ensure everyone can make a profit. There are fewer and fewer cowboys in the world of onions.”

Jan Franje:
“Plan for optical sorting ready, but not yet in use”
According to Jan Franje from Franje Onions, the mood on the onion market was negative, but it became livelier due to the rain. “Quite a lot of onions still have to be harvested. I think it’s difficult to make any predictions. The quality of the onions is good, and we can continue working properly. All destinations are actually participating quite well. Logistically, we have an excellent position, but in the Netherlands, we are often our own competition. We need all destinations, and since the Russian boycott, the second half of the season, from January, is becoming increasingly difficult. Senegal also started issuing licences, which doesn’t make it any easier.”

In recent years, the Dutch onion area increased in a straight line. “I cannot predict if that line will be continued. If we get more difficult times, the area could shrink as well. But our ancestors could never have predicted that we would surpass one million tonnes of onions. In recent years, we also gained a considerable area in Belgium, with younger soil, so why wouldn’t that line continue?”

“The trade of organic onions is currently very calm, but that’s normal for the time of year. The permanent lines are continuing as usual, but there are hardly any additional pressures. In this period, each country has its own organic onions. Besides, the organic onion area has also increased on a European level,” Jan says.

The development of optical sorting is closely followed by the brothers Franje. “We also have a plan ready for it, but we are not yet going to implement it. Of course, it’s an enormous investment, and it requires quite a bit of your company’s space. It’s not yet a necessity for our company, and the great quality we have this year doesn’t make the necessity any more urgent.”

More information:
MSP Uienhandel
Lindert Moerdijk

FlevoTrade Dronten
Piet van Liere

Franje Onions
Jan Franje

Publication date: 10/12/2017


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