It is traditional to celebrate an anniversary with a party, and that’s exactly what Broer, Bejo and De Groot en Slot did. However, this party included a symposium and dinner with around 400 guests from around the world.

For the event onion set producer Broer - which is celebrating its 70th birthday this year - converted its facilities at Creil in The Netherlands into an event space including trade exhibitors, conference theatre, variety demonstration, and dining area. Delegates also had the chance to tour the Broer site – the most modern onion and set storage facility in the world – and see the world’s largest condenser drying facility for onion sets, as well as cold stores, and facilities for heat treatment, grading and packing.

The program included presentations on various in-depth topics from specialists, drawn from across the sector and the partner companies.

Bejo Crop Research Manager for Allium Timo Petter, and Bas van den Hemel, Manager of Breeding at De Groot en Slot, discussed the very wide assortment of varieties they breed for different regions and day length areas around the world. “The key is rigorous plant selection,” they said. “We always select the best individual bulbs to maintain uniform parent lines and to continue develop improved varieties. As breeders, we now combine classical breeding with the latest technologies. Our focus is on developing varieties that can handle high disease pressure and abiotic stress, such as humidity, salinity and draught. 

“Some of the recent innovations that we are particularly proud of are the assortment of downy mildew resistant varieties,” they continued. “As well as the development of shallots grown from true seed; and our organic seed and set production programmes.” The first downy mildew resistant variety, Hystand, took almost twenty years of development, but has since been followed by other resistant varieties including Hylander, Boga, and Redlander – the first red onion hybrid which is highly resistant to downy mildew.

Both disease resistance and organic seed are vital to Dutch organic grower Roger Custers, who spoke passionately about converting to organic production. “Prevention of diseases is very important in organic onion cultivation, and we are therefore very happy with Hylander,” he said. Some of his production techniques, such as burning down early crop and weed growth to control weeds and improve consistency of bulb size could be equally applicable to conventional growers.

The key is rigorous plant selection

Timo Petter - Bas van den Hemel

Ed Pissarro is Agronomist for P.G. Rix Farms and Stourgarden, who supply all of the onions for supermarket Tesco in the UK. He explained that, as well as dealing with disease pressure, conventional onion growers in the UK are also looking to extend the length of the home-grown season and introduce new products and ideas. “We are trying to add value throughout the whole process, but it is a challenge that needs a lot of thought, investment and marketing expertise. There are opportunities and we have to add value and find a point of difference.”

Stourgarden aims to supply UK-grown onions for 50 weeks of the year, meaning a good range of varieties grown from both seeds and sets is required. “Hybound and Hypark both work very well in terms of yield and we know that Hybound will be early and reliable,” said Ed. “As a red variety for long term storage we can’t beat Red Tide.”

Of course, different markets require different characteristics in their onions and breeders must consider these different demands when assessing new varieties. Gijsbrecht Gunter, President of Holland Onion Association (HOA) discussed some of the different market requirements for the most popular vegetable crop in the world, and pointed out that it is the Dutch ability to grow and store very long day onion varieties which allows them to have such a strong export market.

Dr Ernst van den Ende of Wageningen University and Research looked ahead to the challenge of feeding a growing population in a more sustainable way. Climate change, environmental degradation, reduced availability of plant protection products and high global levels of malnutrition are all things which food producers need to address. Globally we need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as has been produced in the last 8,000 years! ”This will require new approaches across the whole supply chain, like increasing reliability of harvest, reducing waste, and applying innovative cultivation techniques in difficult climate zones. Plant breeders in particular have an important role to play in meeting this global challenge, and new breeding tools and techniques are opening up new ways for the breeders at Bejo and De Groot en Slot to provide improved varieties to help meet these challenges,” said Ernst.

Having worked together over 50 years to deliver innovation in alliums, Broer, Bejo and De Groot en Slot will continue their  partnership to deliver quality, inside each and every onion.