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“The record onion prices for the previous six months is a just recompense for South African farmers after a couple of difficult years.
Eighteen months ago, onion prices were in the doldrums, jeopardizing the sector in the face of surging input costs plus power cuts.

“If we didn’t have these high prices this year, even more guys would’ve stopped planting onions,” remarks Willem de Klerk of PV Fresh market agency on the Tshwane fresh produce market. “This year the yield isn’t quite there but the price is making up for it.”

Onions are in limited supply at the moment, with resultant historically high prices

The onion growing season has been hampered by power cuts interfering with irrigation (not everyone has the capital to run their pivots from generators) and with spraying programmes, complicated by heavy rains and loaded down by escalating chemical, energy and transport costs.

Willem notes that the general public probably doesn’t understand why onions are so expensive, adding that producers just cannot afford to produce for low returns.

Record prices to remain into winter
Currently 10kg bags of large onions are selling for R130 to R140 (6.9 euros) at this market, and prices aren’t subsiding because onion supply, particularly of large sizes, remains limited.

The Western Cape is at its peak of production; producers in this province can take advantage of the worldwide onion shortage through increased export opportunities to the Middle East, Africa and Europe this season.

The Northern Cape’s onion season is at its end and in Limpopo the new crop, planted over February and March, will be coming in during June and July.

“Until the end of last year, we regarded R80 [3.95 euros] for a 10kg bag as the ceiling. I never thought we’d see R100 for a 10kg bag but at one point prices have even reached R150 or R160 [7.9 euros],” he says.

By comparison, in September 2021 a 10kg bag of white onions sold for around R30 (1.48 euros) on the Johannesburg fresh product market – an indication of the sensitivity of market prices to supply.

Red onions are even more expensive: up to R280 (13.8 euros) for a 10kg bag.

“If the economy were stronger I can just imagine where prices would have ended up,” he remarks. He considers it likely that onions will continue to obtain these strong prices for at least the next three months, all depending on the size of the coming Limpopo onion crop.

Despite current record prices, farmers might not be jumping at the chance to bump up their onion plantings for the next season.

“It has become extremely expensive to plant onions – establishment costs for onions are now a quarter of a million Rands [12,390 euros] per hectare – that’s too high for a grower to take any chances.”

Some of their buyers have held off on their purchases, hoping for prices to come down, but onion demand is inelastic and for the moment, the market remains tight.”

For more information:
Willem de Klerk
PV Fresh Produce Market Agents

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