Onion Cultivation in India – Profit and Cost of Farming
Onion is one vegetable that is consumed worldwide and is an ingredient in at least one meal of the day. Not just in India, but worldwide, onion is one of the few vegetables which is added in almost all main courses. Onions are consumed raw but mostly consumed cooked. The flavor exuded by onion puts many in doubt if it’s a vegetable or a spice, but that’s for debate.
With a crop that is in demand almost throughout the year, it’s expected to fetch a good price but onions are cultivated widely too and are priced evenly throughout the year except for some short periods where demand is extremely high and production is low due to some reason. This does happen once a year or once in a few years. In the year 2000, onion prices shot up to near 120 Rs per kilo but then the price stabilized in less than 2 weeks. During these 2 weeks, the farmers who had produced made a huge profit in the market. But this is not a common scenario and most often the ones who profit are those who are into the business of trading and storage.
With the right temperature, weather conditions, soil, Irrigation, and fertilizers, chances of profiting from Onion cultivation are very high. Chances are losses are low due to various factors including the fact that the shelf life for onion is high when stored properly. Farmers almost always go on a profit when it comes to onion cultivation and is a sure crop to make a profit.
- Climate for Cultivation: Onion grows at moderate temperature. When the plants are in the growing stage, it requires a temperature of 18-24 degrees for vegetative growth and a temperature of 25-35 during the growth of the onion itself. If the weather is below 18 degrees, the plants will not grow well and the growth is often shunted. If the temperature grows above 35 degrees, there is a lot of stress and plants tend to wilt even with proper irrigation. Chances of diseases are also high with higher temperatures, often affecting yield.
- Ideal Soil for Cultivation: Loam soil with high organic matter is recommended for onion cultivation. The soil should be loose and easy to penetrate. It should be free from waterlogging and clay soil is not recommended. Adding cow manure, compost, and organic waste to the soil during the first soil preparation could result in better soil conditions for onion cultivation
- Varieties of Onion: There are over 25 varieties of onions cultivated in India and they differ from region to region and also varies on season. What is cultivated in rabi are not the same varieties cultivated during Kharif. The variety also has a wider difference in yield and results. Some varieties are tolerant to certain diseases while others are more inclined to do better for a particular region. A full list of all the varieties is listed below along with the yield.
- Propagation: Onions are propagated from seeds. All Plants are then transplanted to the field after field preparation 30-35 days later. The right time to replant the saplings is between 35 and 45 days. If it is later than 45 days, the plants usually don’t get to grow to their full potential. Below 30 days and the transplanting results in a high mortality rate in the plants. Propagation is done in trays, though some farmers find it best to do them on a small area of land after proper land preparation. The best results come with nursery trays as the fertilizing is much easier there during the first few days and there is more control over the plants during the initial stages.
- Season: Onions are cultivated during rabi and Kharif. The varieties are different but they are successfully grown in both seasons. Kharif crops start from June 15th and the nursery is prepared between June 15 and July 15. The transplantation happens in 35 -45 days between august and the first week of October. The total crop period is 135 days. The Rabi crops Nursery preparation starts from November and goes towards December. The plants are transplanted in January or February. Back-to-back plantation of onion is possible with proper planning.
- Land Preparation: Land preparation for Onion cultivation depends on whether the farmer intends to irrigate by drip or flood irrigation. For drip irrigation, canals are constructed on the sides of the fields to provide drainage of water in case of rains. The drip system is set up to provide water every 10 to 15 centimeters. The soil is tilled and flattened using a leveler. The soil should be as loose as possible and application of basal fertilizer is mandatory. 2 tractor loads of Fym or compost should be applied to loosen the soil and the tilling should be done to ensure no large rocks or lumps in the soil. For Flood irrigation, rows of 3 feet width are created with canals in between to flood the water. Larger width will prevent water from moistening the soil toll the center. Flood irrigation is the traditional method and requires more water. Its recommended installing drip irrigation for onion for higher yield and proper fertigation.
- Intercropping: intercropping of onion is not recommended. Onions appreciate full sun and the soil should be free from weeds. This prevents onion from growing where other weeds and plants grow. Intercropping onion with other crops often results in poor quality and size of an onion.
- Planting: Planting is done 35 days after the saplings are ready from seed. The saplings should be planted before 45 days from the nursery. Planting delay may cause smaller onions and lower yields. It is always essential to keep track of planting. Planting should be done at a distance of 10-15 centimeters from plant to plant.
- Spacing and Density: approximately 75000 to 120,000 plants can be accommodated in an acre with a 10 to 15-centimeter distance from the plant to plant. For the nursery, you will require approximately 4 KG of onion seeds per acre.
- Irrigation: Irrigation for onion is usually done through the flood methods in traditional farming. Weekly twice or once depending on the soil condition should be practiced. For Drip irrigation, twice-weekly should be sufficient in most cases. If the temperatures are high, irrigation may be required on alternative days for drip irrigation.
- Fertilizers: Onion relies on fertilizers for better growth and performance. While application of fertilizers through drip irrigation is the best and easiest practice, for flood irrigation, manual application of fertilizers is practiced. Fertilizer quantity depends on the season and the variety of onions. The Kharif variety of onions has a yield potential of 25-30 tonnes per hectare with 75KG Nitrogen, 40 KG potash, and 40 KG phosphorus while the long day onion crop with a yield potential of 100 Tonnes per hectare requires 180kg Nitrogen, 60KG phosphorus, 70kg Potassium. The variety and season should first be assessed for fertilizing onions.
- Pests: Pests and diseases are common in onions. Keeping an eye for the following pests and practicing the application of pesticides immediately when the symptoms of diseases are seen can save crops and reduce loss. The application of pesticides is done through fog guns and sprayers. An acre of application will take no more than an hour.Thirps, Mites, Maggots are common pests among onions.
- Harvesting: Harvesting is done when the leaves turn yellow or brown in the edges and start drooping. Once they are ready, harvesting is done. Farmers usually harvest the onions a week after they see the signs of drooping leaves. Irrigation is completely stopped a week before harvesting. Onions harvested in this manner have a longer shelf life and are easier to be transported to. Fresh onions are not usually preferred due to problems they cause during storage.
- POST-HARVEST: Onions are cured for 48 hours in a room with 20-30 degree temperature and 70% humidity. This ensures the shelf life of the onion will be for approximately 6-8 months. For more details on storage, visit https://www.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/doc/pfra-arap/csidc-crdi/pdf/onions-oignons_eng.pdf
- Yield: The yield of onion depends on season and variety. High-yield varieties are known to yield approximately 120 Tonnes per acre in the right season while some varieties in the Kharif can yield 20-30 tonnes per acre which is very nominal but still highly profitable.
- area of cultivation: Maharashtra is the largest producer of onions in India. Karnataka, Gujarat, MP Andhra, and Bihar are also large onion-producing states. Maharashtra accounts for 33% of the total onion production in India. Karnataka stands second with 17% of the total production. Worldwide, India is the second-largest producer of onions next only to China. India accounts for 19% of onion production worldwide while china takes a major share of 27%
Onion Cultivation , Yield and Profit per acre
|Seeds (4 KG)||6000Rs|
|Land preparation and Labor||2000 Rs|
|Farm Yard manure||6000 Rs|
|Yield||70 Quintal per acre|
|Total Revenue||105000 (at the price of 15 Rs per kilo)|
With a moderate yield of 70 Quintals per acre and a price of 15 at wholesale which is very low, farmers are still able to make a profit of 73,000 Rs in 4 and a half months. With 2 crops, the annual revenue per acre is approximately 1 and a half lakh, which is more than what most other crops can earn for farmers.