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Facts and Figures

Facts and figures

The Netherlands might be small, but for years it has been the world’s biggest onion exporter. That is the result of our fertile soil, climate that favours onion cultivation and professionalism of all production and trading companies involved.

A typical product of the polders

With its 41,528 km2, the Netherlands is a relatively small country. About a quarter of the country is below sea level. Centuries of cooperation with the surrounding water has led to a particularly fertile, stone-free soil with a high percentage of lime. Controlled water and land management has resulted in efficient onion-growing regions. Of the total area under cultivation in the Netherlands some 2% is devoted to growing onions. This means an annual production of some 1 million tonnes of onions, grown on about 20,000 hectares of arable land. Highly-trained growers make optimal use of these naturally given conditions, harvesting about 50 to 60 tonnes per hectare. The Netherlands has a higher per acre yield than any other country in the world: and the yields in the IJsselmeerpolders are usually the highest. 

Onion export

Of the total onion crop some 90% is exported. This means an annual export of about 900.000 tonnes. An indication of the average export shares is: 

30% to the countries of the European Union (mainly Germany, United Kingdom, France)  

25% to the countries of the former Soviet Union

25% to Africa

10% to Asia

10 % to other countries (including Central and South America)


The most commonly applied method of cultivation uses the seed onion. Usually the grower sows the seed in the spring. After about half a year the onions are ready to be harvested. The main harvest takes place in September/October.

Growers can also sow onion seeds in August. This results in what is called winter onions which, thanks to some protective measures, survive the winter in the soil and provide an early harvest. This type of cultivation comes with some measure of risk, because of frequent bad – or wet – weather. This has reduced the cultivation of winter onions.

Many growers also choose to grow onions with the use of onion sets. In the first year the onion plant produces a bulb that is harvested very early. These small bulbs are stored and then planted again early in the spring of the following year. This allows the onions to be harvested in July/August of the second year.

For spring onions the seed varieties that are used are ones that lead to small bulbs. The grower also sows the seed very close together so that the bulbs stay small.

The little onions that are used as pearl onions for preserving are sown deep in the soil, which keeps their fine white colour. 

Crop -rotation

The same field of arable land cannot be planted every year with onions. In our weather onions are very susceptible to disease and infections, such as “pale rot”, stem and bulb nematodes or insect-borne infections wrought by the onion borer. By using a piece of land for different types of crops (crop-rotation) the soil is less susceptible for these diseases and infections. Onion growers sometimes also use chemical or biological methods to protect their crops. Strict monitoring of the growing process also prevents issues with plant diseases. Nature and people cooperate to the best possible extent – resulting in a sustainable Dutch onion business.

Market research

  • Market research conducted by the Dutch Product Board for HorticuIture shows that the onion is a very popular vegetable. Since many years the onion has a solid place in the top 5 of best sold vegetables by Dutch consumers. The average Dutch household consumes almost 6 kilos of onions every year. Over 80% of the Dutch households buy onions.
  • World production of onions stands at about 25,000 million tonnes per year. About half is grown in Asia (above all in China and India). A fifth is grown in Europe.
  • The food processing industry uses almost 20,000 tonnes of onions per year. Of which 7 to 8 tonnes are used for pickling. A large share is used is all types of food products, such as soups, sauces and ready-to-eat meals.
Laatst gewijzigd: 20-07-2012 door: Rinus Reuvekamp
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