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Intensifying onion set activities prompt Broer to expand


The Dutch onion set specialist Broer is expanding its premises in Creil. The company has just taken its recently completed extension into use. The first-year onion sets are now graded and the cleaned onions are being packed, ready for the new planting season that is about to begin.

The canteen of Broer’s new storage and processing unit shakes every time a new pile is driven into the ground next to the building, where an extra storage area is due to arise. In the near future that area will be used for storing propagating material that is currently still stored elsewhere.

The expansion was the consequence of the decision of the mother company Bejo/De Groot en Slot to grant Broer sole responsibility for the cultivation and distribution of first-year onion sets. The building work proceeded swiftly and was ready for operation within less than twelve months.

After the first week all teething troubles were overcome, says Plant Manager Cor Poppe. The next step is to optimise the production. “Our aim is to achieve the highest possible yields of the best quality,” says Poppe. He was closely involved in designing the processing unit himself. “I was granted all the freedom I needed,” he proudly adds while he gives a tour of the route that the onions follow through the new premises.

Bejo/De Groot en Slot took over Broer in 2004 for further investment in the onion set segment. “There was a great demand for new varieties,” explains Siem Beers, Broer’s director. “In those days, virtually the only onion set variety that was widely available was Stuttgarter Riesen – and these are very flat onions, so far from ideal. We wanted more. An entirely new approach to the onion set market. We also wanted to boost the poor reputation that onion sets had at that time.”

There was very little development in onion set varieties in those days, says Beers. “If you want things to evolve and progress you have to manage your research, breeding and sales efforts yourself. Bejo went in search of an onion set producer and soon found Broer, whose head office in the town of Andijk is also close to Bejo’s premises.”

The companies launched a new label for the varieties they produced: Quality inside. Broer also introduced an extra inspection system, in addition to the system used by the Netherlands Inspection Service for Horticulture (Naktuinbouw). Beers: “Our plus quality system sets us apart from others. It enables us to show that we have more to offer than other producers.”

But there is of course a price tag on that. “There's a market for every quality,” says Poppe. “We focus on the upmarket segment. This means our customers are critical, making it essential to meet their high expectations. This we do by using the most advanced technology. Cleaning is an important aspect of that and we’re making continuous efforts to further refine our grading system.”

In the Netherlands there are about eleven suppliers of first-year onion sets: four in the north of the country, one of which is Broer, and the other seven in the southwest. Second-year onion sets, especially early varieties, are grown in a stable acreage of 3,500 hectares. Onion sets fill the gap between old and new season onions. Onion set growers compete with seed onion exporters in early countries such as New Zealand and Argentine. So in theory, Dutch onion set growers can ask the same - high - prices for their product.

Broer serves half of the Dutch market of first-year onion sets for the cultivation of second-year onion sets. This accounts for 20% of its turnover. The company exports to 42 countries, mostly in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. 30% of the output goes to the market of allotment growers, especially in Eastern Europe.

The cost price of the propagating material is 2,250 euros per hectare, Beers calculates. “This brings the cost price of onion sets to an average of 7,000 euros per hectare. Profits may be around 10,000 euros per hectare, depending on the variety, yield and quality. Quite a lot of onion sets are grown under contract for exporters. The free market is after all still largely all about taking chances.

Poppe: “With our onions we want to give growers a better opportunity to earn money with their product. We want to raise the crops to a higher level to produce more in the same acreage.” That's also why the company is active in the Noordoostpolder. “In this region we produce propagating material in an acreage of just over 250 hectares as the local soil is particularly suitable for our crops. We also grow onions in lighter soils near the coastal town of Callantsoog and in the province of Overijssel. All in all in around 300 hectares, resulting in a stable acreage.”

The company produces more propagating material in the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland and Russia, in a smaller, but growing acreage.

Key aims in the company's breeding efforts are early maturing, a good skin capacity and resistance to diseases. The past few years have seen the first Quality inside varieties of the new breeding programme slowly emerge from the breeding greenhouses. “I expect that we will succeed in our aim to raise crops to a higher level in the next five years. Our onions should then fetch higher prices. And if things are going well for growers, things will be going well for us too.”

By: Boerderij Vandaag; Petra Vos