Tuesday, 18 April 2017 11:55

Wet and cold hits onion harvest

Written by  Peter Burke
The season from hell has caused havoc for Horowhenua grower Chris Pescini in getting his onion crop harvested this year. The season from hell has caused havoc for Horowhenua grower Chris Pescini in getting his onion crop harvested this year.

The worst season for 70 years, is how one onion grower in Horowhenua, Chris Pescini, describes the year from hell that has struck his operation.

Other growers nationwide are suffering similar problems -- too much rain and too little sun.

Pescini, a fourth generation onion grower, and his family have worked the land in Horowhenua, growing mainly onions and potatoes since 1946. They grow about 75ha of onions and a similar area of potatoes.

He told Rural News that in the past 12 months the rainfall has been 1450mls – 40% up on a normal season. His father, who still works on the property, says he can’t recall such a cold wet season since he began in the district.

“It started in June 2016, too wet, so we had a job getting the onions sown. From then on even with the spuds it’s been a battle all the way trying to do anything. Some of the crops were quite late, the last being sown in September.

“Normally it’s not a problem if you get the heat, but that’s the other big thing,” Pescini says. In October, November and December last year the average temperature was just 14 degrees and it wasn’t much better in January, and in February there was even snow on the Tararua Ranges, which form a backdrop to his property.

“We should be up in the 20s, but with all the wet and low temperatures the growing has been slow and we are a month behind. Onions are like hay, they need to be nice and dry before you bring them in,” he says.

The wet weather has caused havoc in with trying to dry the onions. In a normal season this should take about three weeks, but in the present conditions it’s taking at least double that time. The delay in harvesting this season’s crop is delaying planting next season’s onions and with the paddocks still wet this presents a further challenge.

“Normally we’d have most of the crop in by Anzac Day, but at the rate it’s going it’ll be June before the harvest is completed,” he says.

And Pescini reckons yields are also down, in some paddocks by as much as a quarter.

The Pescini family are major growers for the domestic market and for export to Europe, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan. For them and other onion growers around the country this will be a season to remember for all the wrong reasons.


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