I have seen some activity on social media recently about supermarkets selling onions from New Zealand and Egypt when, and I quote, we have perfectly good British Onions available. If only that were true. The fact of the matter is that the cupboard is bare. Cast your mind back to the spring of 2018 when a certain beast from the east ravished our countryside and brought the country to a stand still with wind, rain and snow. Later that year, you may remember we had the longest period of dry weather, without a drop of rain, since records began. The result of this less than ideal weather pattern was a British Onion harvest which was around 30% down on a 'normal' yield.
Europe was hit with similar weather so there's been very little supply from Holland which would traditionally be our go to destination for back up should we be in such dire straits. What this has all lead to is an vastly increased import window which we had successfully been reducing over the years with improved storage techniques and varietal development. Whereas we would normally bring in a week or so's cover from the Southern Hemisphere as an insurance policy to bridge the gap between seasons, this year has seen that window stretch to over ten weeks.
In the onion industry, some other crop producers might say we have an easy life as we have one harvest a year and then the crop is stored for the remainder of the year. We know what we have and although it takes considerable skill to select the correct crops for long term storage and maintain the quality for ten months of the year, we don't suffer a boom and bust cycle in the way brassica growers might. However, with only one chance a year, we are somewhat putting all of our chips on black. We did know what we had but we also knew it wasn't enough. Hence the reason for costly New Zealand imports.
The good news is that the New Zealand quality is generally very good and the new season British Onion crop has gone in the ground early and in very good condition. We are still lacking water with such a dry winter and reservoirs are not as full as we'd like, but things are relatively speaking looking good for the forthcoming season.