Dehydrator Bulb Onion Production in California - ANR BULB ONION PRODUCTION IN CALIFORNIA RONALD E. VOSS, Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist, ... Dehydrator Bulb Onion Production in California

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<ul><li><p>PRODUCTION AREAS AND SEASONSBulb onions for dehydrator processing are producedfrom the southern- to the northern-most borders ofCalifornia, with main production areas in Imperial,Kern, and Fresno Counties, and the Tulelake Basin ofSiskiyou and Modoc Counties. Dehydrator onions areplanted from September through January in southernand central California and during the month of Aprilin the Tulelake Basin. Harvest begins in May and isusually completed in October. More than 75 percent ofUS dehydrator onion production is in California, andcomprises approximately 55 percent of total Californiabulb onion acreage.</p><p>DEHYDRATOR BULB ACREAGE AND VALUEYear Acreage Average yield Gross value/acre</p><p>(tons/acre)1997 26,000 18.5 $1,5351996 26,600 19.0 $1,5201995 25,100 19.1 $1,510</p><p>SOURCE: County Agricultural Commissioners Annual Report Data(Sacramento: California Department of Food and Agriculture,19951997); individual county agricultural commissioner reports.</p><p>CLIMATIC REQUIREMENTSOnions are cool-season, biennial plants (requiring twoseasons to complete the cycle from seed to seed) thatare commercially grown as an annual crop. Bulbing ishighly dependent on day length. Varieties adapted toCalifornia initiate bulbing at day lengths of approxi-mately 12 to 15 hours. Dozens of varieties are grown inCalifornia because of the great difference in latitudebetween the Mexican border (32N) and the Oregonborder (42N), and because several market classes areneeded.</p><p>Onion growth is very dependent on temperature.The minimum temperature for emergence is higherthan for most other cool-season vegetables at 55F(12.8C) for 70 percent emergence in up to two weeks.In addition, early growth rate is slow compared toother cool-season crops. Optimal leaf growth rateoccurs at 68 to 77F (20 to 25C). However, total plantgrowth rate is dependent on the amount of light inter-</p><p>DEHYDRATOR BULB ONIONPRODUCTION IN CALIFORNIA</p><p>RONALD E. VOSS, Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist,University of California, Davis; KEITH S. MAYBERRY, Universityof California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Imperial County</p><p>University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesPublication 7239</p><p>cepted. Maximum light interception occurs with a leafarea index of approximately 8 or higher.</p><p>Bolting is primarily driven by temperature whenplants with leaf bases greater than approximately 38 inch(9.5 mm) in diameter are subjected to temperatures of45 to 50F (7.2 to 10C). A combination of factors,including planting date, variety, plant size, tempera-ture, as well as timing and duration of temperature,determine if and when bolting occurs.</p><p>VARIETIES Short-day dehydrator varieties are high dry matterselections derived from Creole, Creoso, or Primero vari-eties. They are small, globe-shaped, and white. The sol-uble solids content of varieties currently used in theindustry ranges from 15 to 20 percent.</p><p>Long-day dehydrator varieties are usually selectionsor derivations from Southport White Globe. Bothhybrids and open-pollinated varieties are used with acontinuum of day-length requirements and maturityranges to allow for harvest during the entire summer inthe central and southern San Joaquin Valley, and a fallharvest in northern mountain valleys. Solids content forthese varieties ranges from approximately 20 to 25 per-cent with high pungency.</p><p>PLANTINGAll acreage for dehydrator onion bulb production inCalifornia is direct seeded. Onions are most commonlygrown in multiple rows on raised beds 40 to 42 inches(102107 cm) wide, but some production systems use36-inch (91-cm) beds or wide beds of 60 to 80 inches(152203 cm). Distribution of rows across the top of thebed varies (for example, 2022 in; 5055 cm with40-inch beds) depending on the irrigation method andplanter type. With drip or sprinkler irrigation, rows arespaced equidistant across the bed at approximately4-inch (10-cm) intervals. When furrow irrigation isused, the center of the bed is left empty for salt accumu-lation with 2 or 3 rows planted on either side (bedshoulder). Most seeding is done with mechanical plateplanters. Mostly raw seed, but some coated-pelletedseed, is used. The shallow planting of seed for dehydra-</p><p>http://vric.ucdavis.edu/http://commserv.ucdavis.edu/freepub/</p></li><li><p>tor onionsat approximately 12 inch (12.5 mm)requires a soil surface that is well prepared and must bekept moist until germination. More shallow plantingsmay increase the tendency for flatter bulbs, and deeperplanting may result in lower rates of germination andemergence, and deeper-shaped bulbs.</p><p>Onion seed is susceptible to loss of vigor from hightemperature and humidity; germination tests are criti-cal. The storage life of opened seed containers can beshortened very rapidly if not immediately placed in anenvironment low in temperature and humidity.Seeding rates should be adjusted for lower germina-tion. Dehydrator bulb onions are usually smaller in sizethan fresh market bulbs, and seeding rates and plantpopulations are correspondingly higher. Onion seedsize may range from 100,000 to 130,000 seed perpound (220,000286,000 seeds/kg). Dehydratorbulb onion seed is planted 4 to 5 pounds per acre(4.56 kg/ha).</p><p>SOILSOnions will grow in a wide range of soil types: sand,loam, clay, and organic/peat. Onions are shallow-rooted and need a friable soil that retains moisture well.Excessively dense clay soils interfere with root growthand frequently result in a serious clod problem at har-vest. Sandy soils require very frequent irrigation. Seedgermination and seedling establishment require aseedbed that is uniform, clod-free, firm, and severalinches deep. Compared to planting on the flat or smallridges, raised beds provide better drainage and an areafor salt accumulation away from the root zone.</p><p>Onions are sensitive or moderately sensitive to salin-ity, primarily at the stages of germination and emer-gence. Once plants are established, higher levels ofsalinity are tolerated. Yield reductions of 50 percentmay occur at electrical conductivity levels of4 to 5 mmho/cm (dS/m). Onions are more sensitive tosalinity, sodium, and boron than are lettuce, cauli-flower, broccoli, and cabbage.</p><p>IRRIGATIONOnion seed must not dry out, and the soil surface mustnot be allowed to crust over during the postplanting,pre-emergent state (which can last 10 to 20 days follow-ing initial irrigation). Sprinkler irrigation is the bestmanagement practice for stand establishment.</p><p>Onions require frequent irrigation throughout theseason for several reasons. The root system is shallow,so very little water is extracted from soil depth of morethan 24 inches (61 cm), and most is from the top12 inches (30 cm). Onion roots are mostly non-branch-ing, and all roots originate at the stem, or basal plate ofthe plant. This means that upper soil areas must be keptmoist to stimulate root growth. Rates of transpiration,photosynthesis, and growth are lowered by even mild</p><p>water stress. Onion plants show little capacity forreducing leaf water potential by osmotic adjustment tocompensate for reduced water availability at the root,whether caused by salinity or dry soil. Stressed plantsbecome stunted, may result in doubles and splitting,and are generally higher in pungency.</p><p>The amount and frequency of irrigation depend onthe method, soil type and conditions, and temperature.For optimal plant growth, irrigate when 25 percent ofthe available moisture in the top 24 inches (61 cm) ofsoil is depleted. In general, an onion crop will use 24 to30 inches (6176 cm) of water. With 70 to 80 percentwater use efficiency, applications of 30 to 36 inches(7691 cm) of water should be sufficient. If more wateris being used, the frequency and length of irrigationshould be examined or a different method of irrigationshould be considered (drip, surge, sprinkler).</p><p>FERTILIZATIONBecause onions are shallow rooted and usually plantedin cool soils, they are responsive to fertilization. Soilanalyses are the best indicators for phosphorus (P),potassium (K), and micronutrient needs. Tissue analy-ses, combined with soil and cropping history, are thebest indicators for nitrogen (N) needs. Typically, nomore than 13 of the nitrogen should be available atplanting, 13 at early season (34 leaf stage), and 13 at mid-season. Too much late season nitrogen availability candelay maturity, decrease storability, and contribute tobulb splitting. Because onions are sensitive to ammonia,forms of fertilizer that contain high amounts of itshould be avoided. Total supplemental nitrogen needsmay vary from 100 to 400 pounds of nitrogen per acre(112448 kg/ha), depending on soil and cropping histo-ry and irrigation efficiency. High rates of phosphorus(200 lb/acre; 224 kg/ha) may be needed if soils are lowor deficient. Onions are not responsive to potassium inmost California soils. Zinc and other micronutrientsmay be needed in many soils. To meet planting andearly season nitrogen and other nutrient needs,5 to 10 tons per acre (1122 metric tons/ha) of compost-ed manure is sometimes used. Soil tests, tissue analyses,and preliminary quick tests on tissues (for nitrogen) areavailable.</p><p>INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENTUC IPM Pest Management Guidelines for onions havebeen updated (including photographs) and are avail-able for weed, insect, disease, and nematode pests.Sanitation, crop rotation, resistant varieties, and fre-quent monitoring are essential in the prevention andcontrol of the numerous onion pests. Visit the UC IPMWebsite at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu or see UCIPM Pest Management Guidelines, ANR CommunicationServices Publication 3339.</p><p>Weed management. Onions compete poorly with</p><p>Dehydrator Bulb Onion Production in California 2</p><p>http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/</p></li><li><p>The University of California, in accordance with applicable Federal and State law and University policy, does not discriminate on the basisof race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, medical condition (cancer-related), ancestry, marital status, citizenship, sexualorientation, or status as a Vietnam-era veteran or special disabled veteran. The University also prohibits sexual harassment. Inquiriesregarding the Universitys nondiscrimination policies may be directed to the Affirmative Action Director, University of California,Agriculture and Natural Resources, 1111 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA 94607-5200; (510) 987-0096.</p><p>76-pr-3/99-GM</p><p>weeds because it takes a long time for them to achieveground cover, and the long growing season allows forsuccessive flushes of winter and summer weeds. Handweeding can be very destructive to the root system ofonions and is not economically viable in the productionof onions bound for processing. Therefore, field selec-tion and a good early cultivation program are essential.Currently, a selection of effective pre-emergence andpostemergence herbicides is available.</p><p>Insect identification and management. Thrips andonion maggot are frequently the most serious insectproblems for onions, but mites, seed corn maggot,leafminers, and armyworms can also be serious pests.</p><p>Disease identification and management. Downymildew (Peronospora destructor) and purple blotch(Stemphylium vesicarium, most common in California;and Alternaria porri) are the most serious foliar diseases.Bacterial rots (Pseudomonas and Erwinia spp.) start asfoliar diseases before spreading to the bulb. They are aparticular threat to plants grown under sprinkler irriga-tion throughout the season. Bacterial contamination isintolerable in processing plants and should be kept to aminimum. Pink root (Phoma terrestris), white rot(Sclerotium cepivorum Berk.), and Fusarium basal rot(F. oxysporum f.sp. cepae) are serious root and bulb dis-eases common during production. Black mold(Aspergillus niger), neck rot (Botrytis allii), and blue mold(Penicillium hirsutum) are the most common harvest andpostharvest diseases.</p><p>Nematode identification and management. Stemand bulb nematode (Ditylenchus dipsaci) and root-knotnematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) can be a problem inCalifornia onion production, but this does not occurfrequently.</p><p>HARVESTING AND HANDLINGThe dehydrator bulb industry is entirely mechanized.Special harvesters that include color sorter technologyto eliminate green bulbs have been fabricated by pro-cessing companies.</p><p>Irrigation management before harvest is critical.Water use demand remains high until maturity begins,then decreases rapidly. Careful evaluation must bemade for the last irrigation. Stopping irrigation toosoon will reduce yield; irrigating too late, or applyingtoo much water late in the season, can cause splitting,delay maturity, and increase the incidence of decay.The last irrigation is best applied when 10 to 50 percentof the tops are over.</p><p>Dehydrator bulb harvest is preceded by rolling thetops after the final irrigation; cutting off the tops with arotary beater once the tops are fully dry; undercutting,windrowing, and covering with a thin layer of soil; andallowing the bulbs to fully cure for 1 to 3 weeks. At har-vest, the onions are graded in the field for diseased andgreen bulbs, and elevated into bulk trucks. The bulbsare transported to processing plants and usually dehy-drated within 24 hours.</p><p>MARKETINGAll onion bulbs grown for dehydration in Californiaand other western states are grown under contract withone of the processing companies. Contracts are writtenon value per ton of bulbs, with provisions for deduc-tions for culls, dirt, etc. The processors determine thevarieties to be grown, provide the seed, and advise thegrowers on cultural practices and pest management. Inall areas, except the Tulelake Basin, the processors con-duct the harvest and transportation of the bulbs. Allprocessing plants in California are located in the centralregions. In the Tulelake Basin, the growers harvest withtheir own diggers and bulk harvesting equipment; theprocessors provide transportation.</p><p>Dehydrator Bulb Onion Production in California 3</p><p>Text1: ISBN 978-1-60107-030-2</p></li></ul>

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