IT’S NOT AT all strange that SA’s Farmer of the Year for 2006, Louis de Kock of Wildeklawer near Barkly West, is an onion producer.
Over the past 20 years, this product has grown to the thirdlargest vegetable crop, after potatoes and tomatoes, in SA and worldwide. The red onion, which was relatively unknown until a few years ago, is fast gaining ground.
Local onion sales overtook sales of tomatoes in 2005, when 251 451 tons of onions were sold on SA’s fresh produce markets, compared with the 238 415 tons of tomatoes. Thanks to this growth in demand, the price of onions increased by more than 8%, as against the 1,4% for tomatoes. According to Martin Smith, production manager of the Du Toit group, SA’s three top production areas are Ceres in the Western Cape, the Northern Cape and Limpopo.
Gary Lucier of the US Department of Agriculture says that the restaurant industry and the growing popularity of onions and garlic in gravies and certain soups have resulted in the above-average consumption growth. Along with other vegetables such as mushrooms, cucumber and green peppers, onions largely account for the 23,6% growth in the per capita growth in vegetable consumption over the past 20 years. However, in the US, processed potatoes (especially chips for restaurants and fast food outlets) still showed the biggest per capita growth: 50% in two decades.