Looking for a Shortcut to a Better Long-Day Onion

Improving the characteristics of the long day onion is a mission decades in the making for generations of plant breeders, but Juan Carlos Brevis is hopeful that he and his colleagues will eventually shorten — and complete — that journey.

Brevis leads the onion breeding team at the Bayer research station in Brooks Ore. His team is integrated by associate breeder Rick Jorgensen, assistant breeder Donna Miller and screening specialist Ceely Will. The work of his breeding program is focused on a number of traits, but he underscored the importance of yield as a starting point. “Growers aren’t going to take a new variety if it doesn’t produce the same yield,” he said.

The quest for an improved long day breed certainly doesn’t stop there; storability ranks very high on the list.

“Since these are long day onions, they need to store six months or longer, so you need very good storage,” Brevis said. “There are a series of traits behind storage: dormancy. dry matter content, firmness, resistance to pathogens and more. To improve these traits as once is a difficult process.”

He continued, “Of course, we are looking for foliage disease and stress tolerance. In general, onions are in areas where the climate is hot and dry, and they are exposed to severe heat stress. You need a plant able to handle this and keep making photosynthesis. This is accomplished with a strong root system to move water through the foliage and enough vigor in the foliage that allows the plant to keep growing under these challenging conditions.”

As researchers breed and screen varieties for those desired traits, including resistance to thrips and other pests, their work is also mindful of the marketplace’s interest in flavor.

Read the rest of Eric Woolson’s Onion World cover story by clicking on “Looking for a Shortcut to a Better Long-Day Onion.