Where do your New Zealand grown onions come from?

May 14, 2024

New Zealand is world-famous for its onion crop, as we’ve been exporting them across the world for decades. Over 5,000 hectares of onions are grown in New Zealand every year, with more than 80 onion growers.

What New Zealand regions are onions grown in?

Onions are grown in New Zealand throughout the country, but primarily in the North Island. Key regions include Pukekohe (just south of Auckland), Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the North Island, and Manawatu in the lower North Island. In the South Island, onion growers are located in the Canterbury region.

More than half our onion crop comes from the Pukekohe / Franklin region.

When is the New Zealand onion growing season?

Our range of growing regions and diversity of soil in different regions allows us to produce many onion varieties. A key benefit of having a range of onion varieties and regions, also allows us to plant onions throughout winter and spring, and harvest from early summer right through autumn and into the winter months.

Our extended growing season starts with the planting of early varieties from May or June onwards in the north of the country (Pukekohe). Our main crop varieties are then planted, and the season finishes with the planting of some late onion varieties. Typically, all onion seed is planted by early spring.

Most onion varieties need 7 to 9 months of growing to become an onion bulb ready to harvest. NZ onion growers closely monitor their crops throughout the growing process to ensure that their plants are receiving all the right nutrients and water levels. We pride ourselves on our premium quality onions for both our local customers and international markets.

Depending on the weather conditions, harvesting typically starts in the north of the country in late November. Harvesting continues through to April when late varieties are harvested and processed for domestic use and international export. Our export season starts at the beginning of the year and continues right through until around August each year.

Onion crops begin seeding during the New Zealand winter and finish with hybrid onion varieties being planted in spring.

Common NZ onion varieties

  1. Pukekohe Long Keeper

The Pukekohe Long Keeper (PLK) was developed over 100 years ago by a Pukekohe onion grower, John Turbot. It was needed to extend the shelf life of locally produced onions. The original PLK germplasm was thought to have come from the straw Spanish onion – a non-storage onion. 

It was later developed to export to offshore markets and needed a long shelf life to make early exports viable. The PLK has a strong flavour, is firm, used for cooking, with white flesh and a brown skin.

  1. Early Long Keeper

The Early Long Keeper (ELK) was an early planting version of the PLK with an earlier maturity/ harvest. This early planting version of the PLK helps to spread the harvest. 

Considered one of our main onion crops, the ELK is used for cooking and is similar in appearance to the PLK.

  1. Rhinestone

A hybrid PLK onion that makes it known for its long lasting storage and great quality brown skin.

  1. Tilbury

Another hybrid PLK onion with great skin quality and renowned for its storage capability.

  1. Kiwi Gold

An early season brown onion similar to the ELK, with firm white flesh and excellent skin quality. Long storage capability and a consistent size.

  1. Red Onion

A main season onion with red skin/ flesh with good quality skins. Bred for its medium storage capability. 

A large, globe shaped onion – used mainly for salads and food service and in recent years added to the brown export onion season. Mild enough to be eaten raw and can be used as a garnish.

  1. Californian Red Onion

An over winter red onion variety. A flatter red skinned onion than the Red Onion that is  generally milder and sweeter tasting in flavour. A fresh market onion developed for new season production.

2024 New Zealand Onion Harvest and Export Outlook

Global demand for New Zealand grown onions is strong in 2024. In fact, New Zealand is looking to export an additional 60,000 metric tonnes of onions offshore. That equates to approximately 2,500 additional 40’ containers.

Europe has always been a strong export market for New Zealand and continues to be so.

Southeast Asia is another key market for New Zealand grown onions as they turn to New Zealand onion supply when northern hemisphere imports dry up.

Consider New Zealand grown onions - why compromise on quality?