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Out with the old and in with the new season, fresh & mild Queensland onions
Onion growers in Queensland (the second-largest and third-most populous state in Australia) would historically start harvesting from Aug-Sep onwards but due to increased production volumes and improved storage technologies in the southern states of Australia have been forced to shorten their onion season to prevent collision/overlap with southern supply. This would only result in an oversupply in the domestic market affecting grower returns.
“There are years that our new season Queensland onions are in high demand, especially when the southern onions have not been stored or handled correctly and show quality issues when coming out of storage (eg. Sprouting). Then again it’s the question if these onions are available at all from the Queensland growers as for the past many years they have been forced to shorten their production season by the same southern growers. Queensland onion growers act pretty much as an insurance policy,” according to Versteeg.
Over a period of +/- 10 weeks, Qualipac will be harvesting approximately 6,000 tonnes yellow (aka brown onions), red and white onions. The majority of their onion crop will end up on the shelves of the major supermarket chains in Australia. A smaller percentage find their way to the independent retailers through their dedicated agents and merchants in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and a growing percentage are also being exported to overseas customers.
"We plant from late February to June, enabling us to grow a wide range of varieties. The choice of variety for a particular planting date is critical because of the effect of temperature and day length on the formation of bulbs. Queensland onion varieties are derived from short day tropical onions. The long day onions grown in the southern states of Australia will not form bulbs when planted in Queensland," explains Versteeg.
To ensure the highest quality, Queensland onion varieties are harvested by hand which adds a lot of cost (as opposed to the southern onion varieties and soil conditions being more suitable to mechanical harvesting). With the ever increasing cost of labour, a lot of research and trials have been done to change over to mechanical harvesting but due the nature of the tropical onion varieties and soil conditions, too high a percentage of the crop is being damaged.
The darker coloured Southern onions which have all been harvested by mid-April (South Australia) and mid-May (Tasmania) are at this time of the year being supplied out of storage, are as hard as cricket balls, are high in tear-causing pyruvic acid and to some extend already show sprouting.
The lighter coloured Queensland onions, a sure sign of spring, are available from mid-October till the end of January and because they are mild, delicate, and low on tear-causing pyruvic acid they don’t need to be cooked to death.
Because onions are available in stores year round, they may seem low maintenance and abundant, but their extreme sensitivity to the hours of sunlight actually makes them a complex vegetable to grow.
"One of our farmers stated that every onion is like a clock measuring day length: 'It all depends on latitude. You can’t just plant onions based on what kind you want to eat. You have to take into account what will grow at your latitude.' This is particularly true with Queensland onion varieties," said Versteeg.
"All onions form a bulb (the part that you eat) as days grow longer. Queensland onions form this bulb with relatively short days, about 10-12 hours. Onions grown in the more southern latitudes are called intermediate or long-day onions. They form bulbs during the longer days, are planted in the spring and harvested in summer or fall.
"Because our onions bulb only during relatively short days we grow them as a winter crop, which explains why Queensland onions will always be a seasonal treat only available in the spring and summer months," concludes Versteeg.
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Other news in this sector:
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