LandWISE 2016 kicked off in Havelock North on Wednesday 25 May, and the first day of the event saw the unveiling of ground-breaking Hawke’s Bay onion research, which aims to boost New Zealand onion production.
About 150 were at the presentation by sustainable land and water management consultant Dan Bloomer, based at the Centre for Land and Water at Ruahapia, where the centre runs a microfarm just north of Hastings.
The centre has been involved with the Onions NZ-Sustainable Farming Fund project Benchmarking Variability in Onion Crops, which aims to improve the viability of cropping onion, in which Hawke’s Bay is a significant player in what is the country’s third-biggest horticultural export earner after kiwifruit and pipfruit.
The project aims to bring greater uniformity to the crop, and help growers project when to harvest what and when it will be done.
Big onions grow next to little onions, and along with other variations unbalance the viability of a crop now worth more than $100 million a year to New Zealand.
Global demand is increasing and Mr Bloomer told The Country: “Onions NZ have said to the industry, we can sell them if we can grow them.”
The project has incorporated aerial drones and satellite mapping, which produced remarkable images for those at the conference, while other aspects include individual plant history.
The conference comes at a time when Onions New Zealand is buoyed with the way the season is going. With three-quarters of the crop shipped, chief executive Michael Ahern reported recently returns are expected to be up 50 per cent on last year.
“This means an increase from $81million to $125 million free on board,” he said. “This forecasted result will re-assert onions’ position as the third largest fresh horticulture export item after kiwifruit and pipfruit.”
For many years the onion industry has been New Zealand’s largest fresh vegetable export earner but has held a lower profile compared to its high-flying fresh fruit export cousins.
New Zealand began exporting onions over 50 years ago and now has 45 markets worldwide, with Hawke’s Bay company among the largest of the country’s growers.
NZ is the number one supplier from the Southern Hemisphere to continental Europe.
The industry developed a strategic plan in 2013, focusing productivity, export market development, quality onions, and innovation.
“It’s very pleasing to see strong signs that our strategic planning is starting to pay off,” Mr Ahern said.