Expert view

Trials evaluate the benefits of smart onion planting

Smart farming was already being practised before the rise of the term “smart farming”. Indeed, smart or precision farming does not necessarily involve satellites, state-of-the-art sensors or processing enormous data packages into clear crop measures.

Important steps forward in agriculture are still being made by precision and smart thinking in the traditional sense of the words. A good example is an initiative in the Netherlands’ south-western clay soil. This year, the effect of precision planting on the homogeneity of harvested onions in this region is being monitored on the De Rusthoeve test farm.

Normally, the onion sets roll into the little trench quite haphazardly. In this year’s test, the onions have been planted with a slightly modified garlic planter. This way, they are evenly divided in the soil.

Smart farming: 4 questions

The exact effect is not clear yet, but growers could ask 4 practical questions:

  • Does the grower save on planting costs, because on balance fewer onion sets are needed?
  • Does precision planting increase yield?
  • Does precision planting lead to more homogeneous onions?
  • And, very important, are buyers prepared to pay more for more homogeneous batches?

A first impression is that the precision-planted onions show a more level position on the test field than the regular onions. Whether the onions really are more homogeneous and whether the slightly more expensive way of planting yields more financially, remains to be seen.

Photo credit: Tim Scrivener

Photo credit: Tim Scrivener

When you see something with the naked eye, that does not automatically mean the numbers agree. Furthermore, years differ so more research is necessary. Still, I expect that onion growers will watch the test with interest during the coming open days and will draw their own tentative conclusions.

There are not many details about the test. Maybe we will hear more at a later stage. I would not be surprised when the test farm made vegetation indexes for the regular and precision planted onions on several occasions during the growing season. Now that would be Smart Farming, with capital letters.