Onion export season gets off to early start with shipment to Indonesia

Around 85 percent of the onions grown in New Zealand are for export.
Around 85 percent of the onions grown in New Zealand are for export. Photo credit: Getty

The export season for New Zealand onions has kicked off early this year, with growers hoping it's a sign the coming months will be easier for the industry after a "complicated" 2020.

A shipment of 78 tonnes of product left for Indonesia, New Zealand's second-largest export market, last week - two months earlier than last year.

James Kuperus, chief executive of Onions New Zealand, said while it was a relatively small amount, it signals the season is underway and has brought a sense of optimism for growers.

"This will be the first shipment to Indonesia this year and we'll commence exports to Europe this week," Kuperus told Newshub on Tuesday.

"Thankfully we're able to get underway a bit earlier this year."

He said the earlier start date came thanks to Indonesia releasing their import quota earlier than normal and New Zealand Government trade officials' efforts to keep trade open. 

Kuperus said small volumes had also been sent to the Pacific Islands, with which New Zealand has a 52-week trading season, but the shipment to Indonesia marked the first significant shipment of the year.

Around 85 percent of the onions grown in New Zealand are for export, with the largest market being continental Europe, which receives 45 percent of our product.

Twenty percent of onions exported go to Indonesia, with the remainder going to other countries in Asia - such as Japan and Malaysia - and the Pacific Islands.

Kuperus said this growing season had been good so far, and that though water was short "there was frequent rain during the growing season".

Although around 6 percent fewer onions were planted than last year - "due to the uncertainty created by COVID" - Kuperus said yield was up and it was expected the total quantity produced would be only around 3 percent down on the previous year.

"Last year was fairly complicated as one would expect," he said.

"It was a difficult and stressful season...but we managed to make it through."

Last year, the onion industry was worth $145 million, and in 2021 total onion exports are expected to be between 170,000 and 175,000 tonnes.

"We're fairly optimistic that we're going to have a good harvest and export season [but] there are still a lot of shipping uncertainties," Kuperus said.