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How Asda helped me overcome the extreme weather to keep British onions on the shelves

Tim Elcombe is commercial director at Bedfordshire Growers, one of Asda's main onion growers, and chairman of the British Onion Producers' Association. Here he blogs about how Asda has worked with farmers like him to make sure as many British onions as possible are hitting shelves...

By Tim Elcombe

October 19, 2018 10:17am
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It's a bit of an understatement to say that 2018's been a challenging year for onion growers like us. We've supplied all sorts of onion varieties to Asda since 2010 – growing reds, browns, shallots, echalions and organics – and this year has presented the toughest growing conditions I've seen.

Tim Elcombe from Bedfordshire Growers
Bedfordshire Growers supply us with around 10,000 tons of onions a year

Usually, we plant most of the crop by mid March, but the 'Beast from the East' brought prolonged cold and wet weather, so we were around six to eight weeks late drilling the crop. There were some points in the spring when the snow hit that we thought we wouldn't get tractors on the land to get any crop in at all.

This put us on the back foot from the beginning. But then things became even tougher when we had one of the hottest, driest summers on record – definitely the most challenging weather I've encountered in my 15 years in the industry.

So once we had got the crop in, we had to work round the clock to irrigate the fields because the weather was so dry.

You have to do what you can to minimise the impact. We haven't got the final figures yet, but we expect to be 40% down on our normal yield, and the onions are a little bit smaller too.

While all of that has been unsettling, it's been great to have such a close working relationship with Asda as we've coped with the extreme weather. We've been constantly speaking to the team to update them on the situation and find a way to ensure all of this year's crop makes it to shelf.

Asda has been proactive on how they've approached the situation, which is really positive for us. For instance they've agreed to reduce the specifications to allow smaller size crops to go into packs, which will result in better crop utilisation and a huge reduction in food waste.

Regardless of their size, our onions will still taste great – so there's no impact on quality.

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