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US onion market optimistic

The Northwestern states of the USA (Idaho, Oregon and Washington State), have the largest share of stored onions in the US. Normally, the harvest is quite far along in this area in October. But as of 20 September, some areas were still waiting for dry weather. The market is positive. There’s more demand than supply, and growers are ready to continue harvesting. Long-day onions are grown in this area. These can be quickly marketed, but are often put into storage for long periods. 

Harvest in the north means it’s time for a new start in the south of the US. In the south, in Texas (at the Mexican border), growers are preparing to start sowing. Because the region has fewer hours of daylight during the growing season, they use short-day onion varieties. Later this year states such as California and New Mexico will also start sowing their short-day onion varieties. But because of the geographic location of these states, intermediary and even long-day onion varieties are used here. In Texas, the harvest starts early April. Earlier fresh onions are imported from Mexico. These fresh onions compete with stored onions (still) on the market.

Two large onion production areas in the USA are in the northwest. The Colombia Basin and Treasure Valley combined are good for more than 17,000 hectares of onion production. In Treasure Valley we can clearly see drop irrigation is used to provide the onion plants with plenty of water and the right nutrients. The plant density is considerably lower compared to Dutch densities. Growers here have a plant density of about 500,000 plants per hectare. 

Onion field in Treasure Valley in late August.

This low plant density mostly came into existence because the market, processors in particular, wants large onions. Some of these onions are used for fried onion rings, but they are naturally also supplied to large hamburger chains. Because of the high temperatures and the type of irrigation used, we’re regularly faced with thrips. Growers are capable of protecting their production, but it costs much time and effort.

In the Colombia Basin, the fields are irrigated by (centre) pivots. When flying low over the fields, you can see the enormous circles in the landscape. Long storage onions are grown here, as well as part of the export onions. The onions are slightly smaller than those in Treasure Valley, but the plant densities are still much lower than in the Netherlands (also around 500,000 plants per hectare).

Because of the irrigation, it’s important that the onion is raised up. The water should be able to flow down the plant, and not remain in the necks or axils of the plant. Neck-rot is one of the largest problems in the cultivation of high-quality onions here.

Hazera’s long-day onion seed improvement programme is located in the centre of this cultivation area (Washington State). “We also focus on firmness and quality here. These are qualities we implement in all our day-length varieties. Short-day onions are improved from California. We look for production and quality for all of our programmes. Besides, we focus on other necessities for our customers. In some cases, this could be a certain disease resistance, or, among other things, having one core, shape and skin are also some of our focus points,” says Ineke Christiaens from Hazera.

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