Onion farmers push bulb to higher level

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Local horticulture producers, despite having been pushed off the market by retailers’ imported produce, have begun to increase production.
Retailers argue imports are cheaper while local farmers’ prices are steep due to high costs of production.
South Africa subsidises its farmers and gives them export incentives which make their produce cheaper.
Local producers depend on markets such as Mbare Musika in Harare where they are forced to reduce prices to compete with imports.
With most horticulture produce being perishable and farmers not having access to adequate storage facilities, they are left with no choice but to sell their produce at prices that are not viable.
However, local producers have soldiered on and one crop that has been popular with farmers is the onion.
Onion is one horticulture crop farmers can produce and competitively market locally, agronomist Ivan Craig has said.
Onions are a suitable winter crop.
“With most farmers having finished harvesting their summer crops, it is imperative that, if they have access to water during this winter season, they not leave the land lying idle,” said Craig.
“Farmers can grow onions which have a good market.
“The cost of producing onions is not high and there is huge potential for favourable returns.”
Before embarking on an onion production venture, farmers should study the market.
“There are different types of onions including pickled, shallots, bulb onions and farmers should first find out which ones the target market prefers,” said Craig.
Craig said for farmers to realise maximum yields, they should follow the correct procedures and ensure they have the right and adequate inputs.
“It is advisable to choose F1 or hybrid seed which has the potential to produce 120t/ha,” he said.
“If one opts for Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs), they produce 10 to 20t/ha.
“A farmer requires 4kg of seed/ha with between 1 000 and 1 500 kg of vegetable fertiliser per ha.”
Land preparation is key in onion production, Craig said.
“Land preparation has to be deep and before transplanting the seedlings, the soils need to be irrigated first to field capacity,” he said.
“When transplanting, rows should be 20cm apart to give roots space to spread.
“It takes three days for a transplanted seedling to establish.”
After establishment of the seedlings, a farmer should ensure there are no weeds in the field.
“It is important to keep the field weed-free as weeds compete with crops for nutrients and water and in most cases, the crops suffer,” he said.
“A farmer should also scout for pests and diseases as these will negatively affect yield if left unchecked.”
Craig said it is important for farmers to realise that onions require lots of water.
“Those in sandy soils, after transplanting, can follow the 10-to-12-day irrigation cycle while those in heavy soils use the 12-to-14-day cycle,” he said.
After two weeks from transplantation, the onion leaves fall, a sign that it has matured, Craig said.
“If the leaves do not fall, a farmer can go into the field and break the necks manually. Three weeks from the falling of the leaves, the onions will be ready for harvesting and they can be pulled out.
“After pulling them out, knit them into bundles and hang them in a storage area that is dry and well-ventilated.”
Regular inspections must be done on the harvested onions.
“After every week, the farmer should inspect his crop and remove any that are rotting as these can spoil the good ones,” said Craig.
He advised farmers not to dispose of the entire crop while it is still fresh.
“The time for onions to fetch the best prices on the market is between January and March as they are normally in short supply, so this is the time farmers should aim to sell their crop,” he said.
“Most growers sell fresh onions. Drying the onions and selling them when they are in short supply would be an advantage to the farmer.”
If correct procedures are followed and yields are maximised, farmers will be able to make a profit from their produce.

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