Field to Plate
Onions are grown in fields throughout New Zealand and are exported all over the world. This is how we do it...
Onion crops are seeded during the New Zealand winter. Depending on the variety, onion planting can start as early as May in the North Island. By September all of the onion seed in New Zealand is in the ground. It takes between 7 and 9 months of growing to become an onion bulb which is ready for harvest.
During the growing process, the onion crops are closely monitored to ensure the plants are receiving all the right nutrients and water to grow the best possible onions for our markets.
Crops are grown using IPM (Integrated Pest Management) principles and inspected frequently for signs of pest and diseases, threats to the quality of the onion crop is dealt with swiftly to ensure minimal impact.
Once the Onion bulbs are ready for harvest, the green tops and the roots of the onion plant are cut either mechanically or by hand clipping, depending on customer requirements and equipment available to the grower. During this process the Onions Bulbs are lifted from the soil and laid in rows on top of the bed to dry in the sun, this creates the dry skins that protect the onion.
Once dry, bulbs can be mechanically lifted from the bed into bins for transportation to the packhouse, where they are stored and graded. Growers try to minimise the time onions sit on the beds in the field to cure, unfavorable weather effects the drying time and can effect the quality of the onion skins.
Transport to Packhouse
Onions are transported from the field to packhouse in wooden bins or bulk trailers, transported with trucks or tractors depending on the distance between field where onions are grown and the packhouse.
A number of packhouses are located on farm, but some larger facilities are situated on dedicated sites central to the growing region.
In the Packhouse
Onions are held in field bins after harvest for a minimum of 10 days to continue the natural cure process.
Once cured, the onions are passed over a grading system to separate onions into size and quality requirements for various markets. Grading is also an opportunity to separate good onions from any waste product such as excess skins or damaged onions.
Once onions are graded they are stored ready for their respective markets. Refrigerated cool stores are seldom used by onion packhouses, preferring to store onions in ventilated sheds, using ambient air temperature.
Coolstorage may sometimes be used to maintain freshness in onions stored for later season sale on the domestic market.
Ready for Market
When the order comes in, Onions are packaged into the appropriate form for each market.
There is a range of different types of packaging used for export onions, including: 20 kg bags, 1.2 tonne bags or export bins.
The bags are made of netting and stacked onto a wooden pallet ready for shipping. Only one 1.2 tonne bag fits onto each pallet but the 20kg bags are stacked up to meet requirements or max weigh of each pallet.
The wooden pallet allows the bags to be easily maneuvered both in the packhouse and during transport to export markets.
Shipping to Export Markets
Most onions are shipped in ambient air temperature containers; red onions and some lines of brown onions are sent in refrigerated containers.
The journey to market can take anywhere between a few days to 6 weeks. Onions bound for Europe are in a shipping container for about 6 weeks as they travel to the other side of the world. Luckily our quality onions and innovation in the shipping container air flow systems, allows our Onions to arrive in the EU with the same quality as they left NZ.
Repackaging in Destination Market
At the destination port, containers are unloaded from the container ship and transported by road directly to a packhouses for unloading, storage and repacking. Most brown onions are unloaded and stored in sheds at ambient temperatures until required for repacking.
Bulk packaged Onions are repacked into bags or crates according to supermarket, processor or restaurant use requirements. During repacking the onions are tipped out of the packaging they were transported in and sorted then re-packed into smaller bags (1 – 5 kg) for delivery to a retail distribution center.
Ready for the Consumer
New Zealand Onions are then consumed by a range of international customers through the food service sector, the processed foods sector or by purchasing them from the supermarket.
New Zealand Onions: A 12 Month Industry
The New Zealand Onion Industry is busy 12 months of the year. See how all this activity fits together below.