Press release: Top removal during harvest improves onion quality

The young and innovative company SU-Tech are the first Western European machinery manufacturer to develop an onion loader with integrated topper for haulm removal. This machine has since worked its first successful season in New Zealand. Reason enough to try the technique in Europe this season.

Topping onions during the loading process isn’t new but, in Europe and other key growing areas not common practice. Here the crop is topped before it is swath lifted. Certainly when the onion haulm is still green and standing straight it is an potential source of infection for fungi and bacteria. Letting the necks dry during the field drying period prevents this disease risk. Loading the crop with integrated topping can thus improve the product quality.

Product development
Onion loading specialist SU-Tech was approached by New Zealand farmer Daniel Lovett in late 2021 with the question to develop a unique onion loader. Lovett is co-owner of Lovett Family Farms in Ashburton, Canterbury. The company has decades of experience using topper-loaders. Lovett was keen to try a SU-Tech machine but, he asked for an integrated topping unit that would suit his 275cm (110”) track width. SU-Tech owner Wouter Schoot Uiterkamp put a lot of development in to the new machine. “We carried out a lot of testing in conjunction with researchers specialised in air technology. Together we came up with a system that has the perfect air distribution. I’m proud that we’ve succeeded in getting it just right.”

‘Working speed has doubled’
Lovett has just finished his first successful harvest season with the machine. “It was far from an easy season, with plentiful rain and overcast days”, he says. “That was precisely the reason why we were looking for an onion loader that had sufficient capacity. With the SU-Tech machine that wish came true. Compared to my old machine the working speed has doubled to about 4 kph. This means the capacity has also increased greatly. We grow on 270cm (108”) beds with 16 rows of onions per bed. Our yield averages around 80 tonnes per hectare. The perfect airflow of the topping unit means that it is now possible to achieve a high capacity regardless of the conditions. The machine is noticeably less-sensitive for a dew wet crop. The number of working hours we can put in a day has increased.”

Improved product quality
The relatively simplicity of the concept is what caught the farmers eye. “SU-Tech developed and build the machine according to our wishes. When we took it out of the container and assembled it, it immediately functioned well. That is a real credit to SU-Tech! Because the crop flow has a minimal amount of direction changes, and there the drop heights are minor, the skin quality has certainly improved.” Tailor made solutions is SU-Tech’s speciality. That was also the case with this machine. “The webs can be reversed with the push of a button, in case when a stone gets jammed in the machine. That is a great function! Some details are being improved. My idea is that the machine has a lot of potential.”

The technology
Loading and transporting the onions is done in a similar way compared to the standard technique from SU-Tech. “This machine has a side-mounted fan fitted that blows a stream of air through the crop flow”, says Schoot Uiterkamp. “We make sure that every onion is blown up straight. A reciprocating knife cuts the haulm from every onion. Debris are blown backwards, out of the machine. Any weeds are also removed by the system. The end result is similar to a tradition topper. Enough haulm is left on top of the bulb for its in-store drying and curing period.” Lovett was immediately impressed by the fact that the fan runs very quietly. “Its size would suggest otherwise, this did surprise us. The required additional horsepower and added maintenance are only minor.”

In Europe
The successful first experiences with this machine give its developer a taste for more. Onion growers and seed companies in Europe have already shown great interest. “More than enough reason to test a second machine in the Netherlands this summer”, says its developer. “We are currently working hard on a model that has a transport width less than 3m. With more field tests we want to find out just how much the crop quality improves when the onions aren’t topped and dried in the swath.”

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