Onion farmers face bright, lucrative prospects

THE onion industry is off to a good start, as dozens of farmers in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija are set to harvest their crop of hybrid onions earlier than most of their counterparts in the province, and thus earn more.

As it is still off-season, onions — either hybrids or the traditional red creole and yellow granex — fetch higher prices, at P100 per kilo and P60 per kilo, respectively.

Quirino Francisco of Barangay Vega, Bongagon, Nueva Ecija, who expects to harvest up to 28,000 kilos of hybrid red onions and 42,000 kilos of yellow hybrid onions from his two-hectare farm, would earn millions.

The current bright prospects of onion farmers in Bongabon and other towns in Nueva Ecija are a result of several initiatives implemented by Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala.

Firstly, the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) has restricted the issuance of permit to import onions, said BPI assistant director Dante Delima, who is the concurrent national high value crops development program (HVCDP) coordinator.

Secondly, late last year Secretary Alcala offered direct assistance to Bongabon farmers by providing them P15-million worth of hybrid onion seeds, P4.5-million worth of Red Creole and Yellow Granex seeds, and P500,000-worth of onion seeds to farmers in nearby towns, said Fernando Lorenzo, DA Region 3 HVCDP coordinator.

As hybrid onions mature earlier than traditional varieties, those who planted in November last year will begin harvesting end of February and onto April, explained Lorenzo.

Since supply is still low, prices are relatively high, favoring farmers like Francisco and other Bongabon farmers who planted hybrid onion, noted Lorenzo.

“This is good news for them, especially those who planted early, as they are so used to selling their produce at a measly price of P30 to 50 per kilo in previous years,” Lorenzo added.

Over all, Delima said the DA though the HVCDP will concentrate this year in participatory production technology development and providing onion farmers with appropriate postharvest and storage techniques and facilities.

“These efforts aim to maximize the production area in the different regions suitable for onion production to attain sufficiency and maximize export potential in the near future,” Delima said.

To date, the DA is assisting close to 2,500 onion growers in Bongabon and other towns in of Nueva Ecija, who suffered huge losses in previous years due low prices during harvest, compounded by the entry of cheap imported onions from China.

Bongabon is considered as the country’s onion capital, with about 3,000 hectares planted to the crop, which is more one-half of Nueva Ecija’s total onion hectarage.

In 2009, total onion production amounted to 127 million kilos, of which 57% (or 72.7M kilos) came from Nueva Ecija.

Starting last November 2010, DA is encouraging farmers to plant hybrid onion varieties as these could yield up to three times than traditional varieties.

“With hybrids, farmers could harvest up to 1,200 sacks (of 28 kilos each) per hectare compared to only 400 bags of ordinary varieties,” said Lorenzo. “Napakalaki ng diperensya (There’s really a big difference),” he said.
The only problem with hybrids, Lorenzo stressed, is its short storage life. Hybrids can be stored from three months to a maximum of six months. Traditional varieties can be stored beyond six months.

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