The account managers at Bejo/de Groot and Slot regularly receive questions about how the onions are doing in the other major European onion countries, as well as questions about issues such as quality, yield and export. A reason for Onion magazine to take an annual look across the border to see how onion cultivation is developing in our neighbouring countries. Including figures, challenges and fun facts. 

The first country under the microscope was the United Kingdom (UK). The editors travelled to England in mid-August 2023 and talked to Chris Bettinson, crop manager alliums of Elsoms Seeds. During this visit, several plots of onions were viewed in the region where most onions are grown in the UK: East Anglia. 

The East Anglia region comprises the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex. The onions are looking nice this growing season. In a few plots, the stand is a bit uneven, but overall it is good. The first plots were sown in February, after which it became too wet to sow for a period. The rest were all sown in April, says Chris Bettinson. 

Figures and facts  
About 8,650 ha of onions are grown throughout the UK, 8,500 ha in England, 100 ha in Scotland and 50 ha in Northern Ireland. Of the 8,650 ha, about 50 per cent are onion sets. The percentage of yellow onions is 70 per cent, 30 per cent is red onions. Only 3 per cent of the onion acreage is organic and 5 per cent is about overwintering onions. 

In recent years, the average yield per ha of yellow onions is 45 tonnes and 40 tonnes for red onions. The onions are grown for consumption in the UK and are packed for the supermarket by some large processors. Growing in the UK allows the country to meet about 60 per cent of its own annual requirements. The rest is imported, particularly from the Netherlands and Spain. 

Most soil types on which onions are grown consist of light clay, sand and peat soils. About 70-80 per cent of the onions can be irrigated, which is usually done with a reel and cannon or on larger plots with a pivot. Only a few plots have drip irrigation. 

As there is market demand for large onions (standard 60-90 mm) in the UK, 600,000 seeds are sown per hectare for yellow onions and 500,000 seeds per ha for red onions. The varieties Hybound and Hypark are among the largest yellow onion varieties in the UK, while Red Tide is the largest variety for red. 

Opportunities and challenges 
There are also opportunities and challenges in onion growing in the UK. Fusarium and mildew are mentioned as the biggest challenges. "Fortunately, at the moment we still have enough resources to control mildew, but it does get tricky," Chris Bettinson explains. "This year too, there were a number of plots with a significant mildew infestation. There have also been more problems with fusarium in recent years, both in the field and in storage." 

As far as fusarium is concerned, it would be nice if there were varieties with an even higher tolerance to the fungus. This is something that breeding is working hard on. Other challenges are lack of water and higher energy and cultivation costs, which could put pressure on cheaper imports. 

It is expected that the acreage of onions will remain relatively the same among our overseas neighbours in the coming years. It is a beautiful cultivation that fits perfectly into many growers' cropping plans and is also profitable. But there are certainly also export opportunities for Dutch onions towards the UK.