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Wim van der Heijden, Hazera:

“Difference in quality level visible in storage”

Quality in onions has been a hot item for Hazera for years. Attention is also being paid to disease resistance. The breeding station expects to market the resistance gene (PdR) against downy mildew for short-day onions on short notice. “Prepare for a shift on the onion market,” says Global Product Manager Wim van der Heijden proudly.

The onion improvement within Hazera, which is active in multiple time zones, focuses firstly on quality and high yields. For quality, the company has several indicators, such as the hardness and dormancy of the onion. Hardness, which is expressed in firmness, the number and the thickness of the skins shaped around the onion, is an important characteristic to guarantee quality preservation during transport. The importance of this characteristic has also been noticed in other parts of the world.

Local usability
Because onions respond strongly to temperature, light intensity and day length, Hazera has developed hybrid varieties that can also be used overseas. The varieties are divided into various day lengths, varying from extremely long day, long day, average day and short day.

An onion variety does best when it has been completely adjusted to local circumstances. In the background, Hazera has been working hard on a new variety specifically for the Western European market. This variety will be introduced this year. Wim: “The variety can be used very early, and has a good yield, shelf life and hardness. Thanks to this early variety, growers can minimise weather risks. When you can sow an onion in March, to be able to harvest it in the second week of August, instead of March-September, you can often stay ahead of the heavy rain. A similar onion was already on the market, but it didn’t offer the same storage characteristics, and had a percentage of bare onions. It’s significant that we’ve already sold out of the seeds for this variety.”

Disease resistance a spearhead
That focus isn’t isolated. “As a breeding station, we established a vision more than 30 years ago, in which downy mildew was taken up as a spearhead,” Wim says. “Globally, that disease causes enormous losses in turnover annually, that can amount to between 5 and 30 per cent. That percentage is purely based on the disease itself, and doesn’t include loss as a consequence of other diseases, incorrect production measures, transport or storage. Downy mildew can be downright disastrous in some years, particularly when the outbreak occurs early in the growing season.” Hazera has now taken up this resistance in its total onion improvement programme. “We were very successful in this. This characteristic is now also clearly seen in short-day onions.” Wim mentions the downy mildew resistance within this type of onion combined with the desired hardness, skin firmness and earliness as the largest breakthrough in years. “It hasn’t been done before.” With this, Hazera naturally taps an enormous market potential.

Fungal diseases such as fusarium and botrytis are another factor to keep in mind. “With these diseases you can only talk about differences in level, but a 100 per cent guarantee cannot be given yet.”

Avoiding reductions
“With longer storage, the differences in quality level among onions are highlighted,” Wim continues. “Particularly with onions meant for export. After production, there are quite a few losses during drying, storing and transport. The storage sometimes takes months. Processing, loading and unloading at packing stations, overseas transport and transferring to storage at the final destination requires quite a bit from onions. If your onion gets through all that with no damages, you’ll notice the kind of impact you can have after more than 40 years of improving. The characteristics hardness and skin firmness are vital within the onion export in order to protect the product against temperature fluctuations and any possible transport influences.”

Besides, the loss during drying in storage and becoming bare at packing stations is also of great importance. “Hazera is very strong in these two items: our onion varieties primarily have higher dry dust contents, a higher comparable weight and better skins than other onions on the market. On average we score two to three per cent better in comparable weight, and two to four per cent less becomes bare, which results in a higher net profit. These characteristics are very interesting for the market, particularly for processors. This is reflected in our turnover figures – in the past ten years they’ve increased by double digits every year.”

The improvements in the field of colour and flavour haven’t been standing still either. The trend for multiple colours was started years ago. Besides the classic yellow onions, red and even pink onions find their way to the shelves increasingly often. “Our pink onion variety Sivan is particularly popular in the regions around the equator. The combination of its characteristic pink colour and its mild flavour is popular in countries such as Peru and the Dominican Republic. And the red and white onions have also seen their market shares increasing structurally.” Hazera will soon be unveiling a variety that unites two colours in one onion, according to Wim. Exactly which colours will be kept a secret for now.

Fasto variety also organic
Hazera is also developing new varieties for the organic market. The results in that branch are very encouraging, Wim says. “Working towards the future, we’ll focus more on the organic production. We’re seeing a clear trend for expansion in that. In response, we’re working on creating varieties that facilitate that. Our new early and uniform variety, Fasto, is well-suited to the organic production due to its reduced weather risk, combined with its long shelf life. This production requires earliness, quality and disease resistance like no other.”

More information:
Wim van der Heijden

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