Onion transplanting is going on in every direction in our valley this week. Last week rice was harvested. Now it’s time to get the onions in the ground. Onions are unquestionably a cash crop. Rice might be grown to eat or to sell, but acres of onions have only one purpose.
Onions take work. The seedbeds have to be planted by hand in a plot with a ditch between rows. The plants then have to be transplanted. [Pictures accompanying this essay show Pramote’s family pulling the seedlings to be transplanted as soon as possible –tomorrow morning.] Rice land can be used, but again ditches must be dug with foot-wide dikes of finely tilled soil piled up in between.
Chiang Mai onions need cool weather but never freezing. Cold nights, cool days, little rain but enough water for irrigation make perfect growing conditions. Conditions and soil in our valley are about as good as they come. Usually onions need to be watered as they grow, but if too much rain comes when the onions are almost fully developed next March or April the crop can rot and be ruined. Fungus, disease, and pests need to be carefully monitored. There are other dangers, but the final one is the largest, what the market price will be when the onions need to be sold. That depends on China; aside from the local market, these onions are going to China.
The Food and Agriculture Organization lists Thailand as #35 in world production of onions. China is #1 with more than 20 million tons compared to Thailand’s 280,000 tons.
Cultivating onions is both labor-intensive and risky. With good fortune, a farmer can made a decent living from growing onions as a second crop. Pramote’s brother sold last year’s crop for the equivalent of what his daughter made in salary for the year as a school teacher.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.