Alternate Opportunities For Small Farms: Bulb Onion Production Review ( Publisher's URL )

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Alternate Opportunities For Small Farms: Bulb Onion Production Review
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Fact sheet
Hochmuth, George
University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, EDIS
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Gainesville, Fla.
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Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Melanie Mercer.
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"Date first printed: June 1987: Revised: July 1997"
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University of Florida Institutional Repository
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University of Florida
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1.This document is Fact Sheet RF-AC009, one of a series of the Extension Administration Office, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences, Universit y of Florida. Date first printed: June 1987: Revised: Jul y 1997. Please visit the FAIRS Website at The Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without re g ard to race, color, sex, a g e, handicap, or national ori g in. For information on obtainin g other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences / University of Florida / Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean 2.G. J. Hochmuth, professor, Horticultural Sciences Department; T.D. Hewitt, associate professor, North Florida Research and Ed ucation Center (NFREC), Quinc y ; K.C. Ruppert, assistant professor, Florida Ener gy Extension Service; Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences, Universit y of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.Fact Sheet RF-AC009Alternative Opportunities for Small Farms: Bulb Onion Production Review1 G.J. Hochmuth, T.D. Hewitt, and K.C. Ruppert2Several factors contribute to the potential for successstands. Various processing possibilities exist but their for bulb onion production in Florida. Experimental workpotential in Florida is limited because of the lack of on mineral soils has shown that excellent yields of highfacilities. quality bulbs can be realized. The market situation for sweet onions is expanding. Presently a large part of the early spring crop is produced in Texas but Florida's nearness to eastern cities places it in a prime position to enter those markets. Georgia also produces spring onions but severe freezes in the recent years have revealed how undependable production can be in that area. Florida should be able to produce a stable crop of equal or superior quality. Onions are a very labor intensive crop requiring good crop management skills. A need exists for machine harvesting if onion production is to increase greatly. The spring onion does not store well so that markets have to be determined well in advance of harvest. Some type of mechanism for curing is necessary in order to provide a sound, marketable onion especially for onions harvested in wet weather.Marketin g SituationBecause of the increasing popularity for sweet, spring onions, the demand often exceeds the supply. One of theTotal costs of producing, harvesting and marketing an sources of this demand is the salad bar trade. Theacre of onions in north Florida for 1987 were estimated to wholesale market prices have been good for the springbe slightly over $2,200. Production costs represent about onion in recent years. Other options for marketing spring$1,400, while harvesting and marketing expenses are onions include local sales to supermarkets or roadsideapproximately $800 per acre. Viewed another way,Labor and CapitalOnions can be a labor intensive crop due to the present methods for manual planting and harvesting. Studies have shown that existing mechanical harvesters for dry onions do not perform satisfactorily on fresh onions. Although the methods of hand labor are satisfactory for the existing small scale onion production in Florida, machines will be needed for the planting and harvesting if production is to expand. The initial investment dollars for onions are high compared to crops such as watermelon. The reason is the cost of the transplants and the labor to plant and harvest. Estimated transplant and planting costs would be $700-800 per acre depending on the plant population desired. Specialized equipment needed includes a pesticide sprayer, broadcast fertilizer applicator, rod weeder to undercut the plants prior to harvest, and curing facilities such as forced air peanut driers.


Alternative Opportunities for Small Farms: Bulb Onion Production Review Pa g e 2June 1998variable costs comprise about 90%, while fixed costsgrown in rows wide enough to accommodate the represent about 10% of total costs.cultivation equipment.Suitabilit y Cultural Pro g ram Many soil types are suitable for onion production, butOnions require moderate amounts of fertilizer for high onions from sandy soils cure and store better. The soil pHyields of large bulbs with the exact amounts determined by should be in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Irrigation will bea soil test taken in the early fall prior to planting. Over required with a critical need during transplantfertilization will damage the onion plants resulting in establishment, and bulb expansion.reduced yields. Fertilizer should be withheld once bulbing Although cold hardy, severe freezes can damage theof the weeds to be expected in a particular field will help onion crop in north Florida. Low temperatures affect thein the planning of a control program. Mechanical flowering response and prolonged periods of 40 F tocultivation may be effective for onions grown in single, 50 F may cause some bolting (seed stalk formation)wider spaced rows whereas chemicals are needed for especially if the cold weather follows a period of warmonions grown in high populations on beds. growing conditions. Where mean temperatures are at least 70 F, little bolting is observed.Disease resistant varieties are available, but some include botrytis blast, purple blotch, downy mildew,Plantin g SituationOnly short-day type onions are used for commercial production in Florida. These types grow in size during the short days of winter but do not bulb until the days begin to lengthen in late winter and early spring. Cooler temperatures during bulbing result in the largest bulbs. Varieties recommended for production in Florida include Sweet Dixie, 'Grano 429', 'Savannah Sweet', 'Sunex 1502', 'Granex 33', 'Texas Grano 502', 'Granex', and 'Henry's Special.' These are all yellow-fleshed, mild onions. Transplants are available from many commercial plant producers in the southeast U. S., including Florida, or commercial growers can produce their own transplants from seed. Florida onions are usually grown from transplants because more complete stands result and the onions also compete better with weeds. However, Florida onions can be direct-seeded about October. Direct seeding is preferred over transplanting where high plant populations (greater than 100,000 plants per acre) are desired. However, direct-seeding should not be attempted unless irrigation and suitable weed control measures are available. Although most onions are hand transplanted, there are machines which facilitate the process especially for larger acreages. On poorly drained soils, beds are used to increase water drainage. On deep sands, beds may not be needed. Where chemical weed control is used, the onions are planted in beds of narrow rows ranging from 4 to 8 rows per bed. Approximately 25 square inches of bed surface should be provided for each onion plant. Where manual weed control is to be practiced, the crop should be begins. Weed control in onions is difficult but knowledge chemical control will probably be required. Diseases smudge, basalrot, and softrot. Mole crickets, cutworms, thrips, and wireworms are common insect problems which are usually controlled by the proper insecticide. Fumigation prior to planting is an effective control for nematodes, which can be especially troublesome in sandy soils. For hand harvest, the plants can be mechanically lifted by undercutting the bulbs as soon as the onion tops start to fall over. The bulbs are picked up by hand and clipped leaving 2 to 4 inches of top attached. The onions are placed in pallet boxes or drying wagons, taking care to avoid bruising. Curing is a process which removes moisture from the external portions of the bulb increasing the shelf life and is needed for onions to be stored more than two months. Curing in the field might be possible during dry periods. Forced-air methods can be used when the air is dry. However, since Florida weather usually does not provide these dry conditions, some sort of forced, heated air, might be needed. Commercial crop driers (e.g. peanut driers) are available for this purpose. Onions for immediate fresh sale are cured for short periods often in the field to allow the neck and scales to dry. Instead of clipping the tops, onions can be pulled and bunched for local, direct sale.