Onion marketing proves a winner

Trevor Hall in his storage shed.TASMANIAN producer Trevor Hall has decided to cut out the middle-man – by growing, storing and marketing his own onions.

Mr Hall farms north-east of Launceston on 587 hectares across five properties at Scottsdale, with his wife Teresa, children Riley, 15, Toby, 14, Alice, 16, Emily, 23, and his parents Lance and Ena.

He says the decision to store and market the onion crop came down to profitability.

“It was a good way to value-add,” Mr Hall said.

“Plus I’ve got two sons who are mad keen farmers – so we are looking at ways to be more profitable with what we’ve got.”

Although Riley and Toby are still at school, Mr Hall is putting a plan in place now.

The decision meant a big outlay into storage capacity and infrastructure.

“We were growing for 18 years with another packer in a growing partnership,” he said.

The move is a big risk, because if the onions are not stored correctly – the Halls could face mould issues.

“We have that ability to play the market though,” he said.

“The return to us is greater than if we were growing for a processor.”

A total of 10ha is sown to onions in July/August, which are then lifted in early February.

“We leave them for three to four weeks on top of ground and then they are turned and harvested in March,” Mr Hall said.

At the moment, he said the onion crop looked brilliant.

“We’ve had some nice, warm weather and in summer we’ll start to irrigate them,” he said.

After harvest, the onions are sorted, graded and stored in one tonne bins.

Mr Hall said the cold climate of Tasmania meant the product kept well, with the family selling the onions until November.

They are sold fresh to a wholesaler in Melbourne.

The Halls also grow 38ha of potatoes under a Simplot contract and poppies.

“We’ve been slowing down the amount of poppies we put in, because there are too many price fluctuations,” he said.

“But with the Simplot contract, we know exactly what we are getting.

“It means we can budget better.”

Last year was a bad one for potatoes because of severe floods in Tasmania and the family hope this season will be better.

“We got hit with 500mm over the growing season and lost 600t,” he said.

“It just rotted them.”

Sowing for the spuds kicked off a fortnight ago and conditions have so far been ideal.

“We are growing on higher ground this year, just in case we get that wet summer again,” he said.

“There’s only 6ha on the flood plains.”

Weather forecasts are suggesting a weak La Nina is possible, which is encouraging for the Halls’ 2011-12 potato season.

“Potatoes need that heat in January and February, so we are all hoping for a better season this time around,” he said.

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