Interview with Hazera’s Global Onion Product Manager
Wim van der Heijden
Onion is one of the most grown vegetable crops in the world. It is a real taste maker in all kinds of dishes and is consumed all over the world. Besides taste, onions include many healthy nutrients that are much appreciated by modern consumers.
Many consumers might not be aware of it, but a lot of expertise is required to create the onion varieties that fulfil the needs of farmers, processors, trade and consumers. Hazera, one of the leading vegetable seed companies worldwide, is at the forefront in providing high quality onions. Within a period of ten years, the company’s market share has reached 12% of the world’s onion seed market. Wim van der Heijden, Hazera’s Global Product Manager for Root & Bulb crops, provides his input on the latest in the onion market.
“Hazera markets a whole range of vegetable crops, and onion is one of our largest and a strategic crop”, explains Wim. “Our star has risen quickly since 2008 when several companies specializing in onion breeding were combined into the new Hazera company of today. But our tradition in onion breeding is much longer. Since 1974 we’ve been investing in research and development of high performing hybrid onion varieties, especially in the Extra Long Day segment (for regions at latitude above 50°) and the Short Day segment (latitude up to 30°). With these hybrid varieties, we have achieved a significant improvement in yields and quality. However there is still room to innovate and introduce new varieties, , taking the crop to even higher levels.”
When we say “quality”, what are we talking about? Wim: “To cite some examples: uniformity of the seeds to enable precision sowing, increase of the so-called 1000-seeds-weight bringing more power in the seeds for more vigorous plants, several skin layers to protect the onion during processing and transport, high dormancy preventing regrowth of the bulbs and more. It is also very important for the onion to present a round uniform shape that goes along with improved yields, facilitates harvesting and processing and brings a more attractive product to the supermarket shelf. Another desirable quality is flexibility, the market wants varieties that can be sown as well as transplanted and that can stand very different climatic conditions.
One of the most important improvements we have been working on is a higher firmness of the onion, making it suitable for long storage. Such an improvement takes hard work and a long breeding process during which you have to make the right choices continuously. We succeeded, and now we are able to offer the best storable onions in the world, which also provide high yields, like our breakthrough varieties Centro and Dormo (Extra Long Day) or Taresco (Long Day). This is a golden combination that we offer not only in the Extra Long Day, but also in other types of onions. We’re even introducing the combination of storability and high yield in our red variety Neptune, and it’s quite promising.”
A very important trait in onions is disease resistance. Wim: “We started to develop disease resistance back in 1986, and made considerable investments. A breakthrough was the introduction of High Resistance to Downy mildew, a devastating disease that can destroy complete harvests. Our Santero variety offers this resistance and was very well received, especially by organic growers whose crops suffer greatly from this disease. We expect to get a lot interest worldwide to disease resistance to Pink Root and Fusarium, such as we offer in the Miss Scarlet variety we have recently introduced.
Another focus in breeding is colored varieties. “Next to the classic yellow onion, we’ve extended our range to red, pink and even white onions. The emphasis in this segment is Sivan, which displays a nice pink color, high reliability and flexibility for the grower, and a delicious mild taste for the consumer.”
All this hard and systematic work over several decades, based on extensive investment In R&D (in total over 15% of the company’s turnover), led to results. Wim: “In several segments and regions, we are now showing double digit growth figures, not only compared with five years ago, but even with last year’s results. We reached these results in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania. In Asian countries like the Philippines, India or Pakistan, and in other countries such as Morocco and Brazil, prospects are very good for further growth.
Hazera currently holds the onion market leader position in a whole range of countries around the globe, like Germany, Israel, Belarus, the Middle East region including Saudi Arabia, the Dominican Republic and Greece. We are a strong second in the market in Benelux, Scandinavia, France, UK, Poland and Peru. The company is also moving up in Australia and New Zealand, countries for which it has been breeding Intermediate type varieties with high yield and long storability for export.
What about the onion’s future? Wim: “an important part of it is in our hands indeed, and we’ll continue to invest extensively in research and development of innovation for markets worldwide. Yield and storability will increase further, and we’ll add improved time to market to the crop. We’ll bring resistance to new diseases for a healthier crop that can be grown with less chemicals. Our Sets onions are very promising. These are young prepared plants that are planted very early in the season for very early harvesting (already in June), enabling year round supply and extending the zones where onions can be grown. Since 2011 we’ve achieved double digit growth in set onions as well.”
Expect more developments from Hazera. “One of the things that keep us going is the appreciation we receive from the onion supply chain in all parts of the world. We are ready to further improve this healthy and tasty crop!”