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Onion farmers in southern Taiwan to embrace mechanical harvesting
(Photo Courtesy of CNA)
Taipei, April 28 (CNA) The Farmers' Association of Hengchun in southern Taiwan's Pingtung County demonstrated on Friday a number of harvesting machines that could help address the problem of labor shortage in onion production in the county.
The Hengchun Peninsula currently accounts for half of the total onion farms in Taiwan, with 550 hectares of land used to cultivate the crop, according to the association.
However, the harvesting, handling and storage of fresh onions can be a big challenge for large growers.
Most of the cultivation and harvesting is done through manual labor, but due to urban migration and the population aging, onion farmers have been having a hard time finding young, able-bodied workers to help with the work.
The labor shortage is so severe that the military has been known to send soldiers to help out during busy harvest seasons, the association said.
In order to tackle this problem, the Agriculture and Food Agency under the Council of Agriculture has been carrying out plans to assist farmers in Hengchun, Checheng and Fangshan to better improve their harvest through mechanical harvesting.
As such, the machines demonstrated Friday were adjusted to adapt to the needs of local farmers, including topping, windrowing, loading, and grading during harvesting, the association said.
A hectare of onions would normally take around 30 people to harvest, it said. The cost of labor for a day and a half of work could be around NT$60,000 (US$1,980), it added.
But the same work can be done with just one or two people on a machine.
Given the success of the harvesting machines, local agriculture officials are now hoping to automate other parts of the onion production process.
"Next year, we hope to introduce a complete automated solution beginning from cultivation to harvest," said Yao Chih-wang, director of the Southern Branch of the Agriculture and Food Agency.
The Hengchun Peninsula, which has an ideal climate for growing onions in Taiwan due to its windy and temperate weather, is famous for churning out this sweet and tasty crop.
"Orders for onions grown in Hengchun Peninsula have already begun to come in from Japan since the end of March," Yao said, noting that the peak season for these onions usually lie between March and April.
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