Hort Innovation continues to invest the onion R&D levy in a number of important projects, with a large focus on diseases of concern for the industry. Read more in the R&D snapshot below. And to discover the latest activities in the levy-funded Secret Serve marketing campaign, check out the marketing snapshot.


Following its first meeting earlier this year, the onion Strategic Investment Advisory Panel (SIAP) convened on September 29. Meeting summaries will continue to be available on Hort Innovation’s Onion grower page.

The selection process for appointing an independent chair for the SIAP has also recently been completed, with information on the chair to be made available on the grower page shortly.

The Strategic Investment Plan

A Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) is the roadmap that helps ensure levy investment decisions align with individual industry priorities. It is used to guide decision-making in levy spending, and represents a balanced view of stakeholders in the industry.

Hort Innovation is currently consulting with growers and other industry stakeholders to finalise new SIPs for each industry by the end of the calendar year.

To learn more about the SIP process, visit Hort Innovation’s SIP Portal.

Any questions?

As well as the Onion grower page, Hort Innovation Relationship Manager Bradley Mills is always available to answer questions on the onion program. For questions relating specifically to the industry’s marketing, contact Hort Innovation Marketing Manager Craig Perring.



Detection and management of bacterial diseases in Australian allium crops (VN13005)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? Due for completion next year, this three-year project has been investigating bacterial diseases of onion crops in order to build the industry’s capacity to manage them, and to enhance the industry’s preparedness for potential incursions of exotic diseases.

What’s the latest update? Investigation of potential bacterial disease-control measures has now commenced.

  • The researchers note there are currently no products registered by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority specifically for the control of bacteria in onion crops. There are, however, over 40 copper-containing products registered for other uses in onions, and potential to expand the registered use of some of these products for the control of bacterial diseases.
  • In regards to Pseudomonas syringae pv. porri (Psp), which causes bacterial leaf spot, there are a range of non-copper products that may be effective control measures. The project will be investigating a range of essential oils to this end.
  • Fourteen commercial onion varieties are to be screened for resistance or tolerance to Psp.


Classification of the onion rust complex and development of rapid diagnostic assays (VN13001)

Status: Near-completed project

What’s it all about? With onion rust identified as a key biosecurity risk to the industry, this project aims to determine which rusts infect the onion family in Australia and overseas, and to develop reliable diagnostic markers that can be used to identify them.

What’s the latest update? This project is currently wrapping up, with a final report due by the end of 2016 and no new milestone report due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016).

At the time of last reporting, a DNA variation in the fungi’s sodium/calcium exchanger protein (Ca2) has been identified as suitable for discriminating between the exotic European onion rust lineage, the naturalised South Australian/Tasmanian lineage, and the Puccinia mixta + ambigua lineages. This had led to the development, trial and optimisation of new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primer sets able to reliably identify the lineages in the lab.

The project’s findings are set to be incorporated into a diagnostic manual, which will be submitted to the Subcommittee on Plant Health Diagnostic Standards.


Development of an onion white rot forecast model for Tasmania (VN14001)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? Onion white rot is a serious fungal disease. This project aims to develop a forecasting model for its infection periods in Tasmania, and to better understand optimum timings of fungicide applications for control of the disease. Work began earlier in 2016.

What’s the latest update? No new milestone report was due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016). At the time of last reporting pilot studies had been completed and were to be used to guide the future work of the project. The initial small-scale trials included looking at onion root growth rate, the effect of timing of initial white rot infection, and the effect of inoculum depth on infection.


Australian onion industry communications (VN15002)

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? This project delivers effective and timely communications to ensure Australian onion growers and other industry stakeholders are kept up-to-date with the latest R&D outcomes, marketing activities, and other industry news and information. In communicating R&D in particular, the ultimate goal is to lead to practice change for growers, boosting productivity and profitability.

The project is also supported by Communication support on VN15002 – Australian onion industry (VN15003).

What’s the latest update? A number of regular communication channels continue to be produced and maintained by this project, including but not limited to:

  • The Onions Australia annual magazine, with the 2016 edition available to directly download here
  • Layers newsletters, distributed three times annually
  • Monthly e-newsletters
  • The Onions Australia website, www.onionsaustralia.org.au
  • Social media, via the Onions Australia Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The project will also produce twice-yearly OnionSTAT reports and other resources, such as the onion disease identification poster that has already produced (distributed through the hard copy version of the Onions Australia magazine).


The 2016 edition of the Onions Australia magazine


Other R&D projects of note…

» Managing soil borne diseases of onions project (VN13003), which has been investigating Rhizoctonia solani AG8 as the primary cause of onion stunt. This project is now due for completion, and will be summarised in the next edition of Hortlink when its final report is available.

» Review of the National Biosecurity Plan for the onion industry and development of a biosecurity manual for onion producers (VN15001), for which a service provider was appointed in October.



The Secret Serve marketing campaign for the Australian onion industry is now several months in, having been launched in May 2016. The campaign has a specific focus on parents with young children and continues to encourage this demographic to include onions in more meals.

To engage consumers, the campaign continues to provide plenty of family-friendly recipe ideas, tips and information about using onions. There are digital platforms, printed material in the form of recipe cards, and in-store demonstrations.

The Secret Serve website

The www.secretserve.com.au website acts as an information hub with inspiring recipes and must-know onion information for consumers.

The Secret Serve Society has now been established on the website, involving celebrity advocates. Activity has included food personality Lindey Milan creating a Cheese Quesadilla, Australian chef Mike McEnearney creating Old School Fish Cakes, celebrity chef Darren Robertson creating Rissoles, and food writer Magdalena Roze crafting a Potato and Onion Rosti.


The Secret Serve Society at www.secretserve.com.au/secret-serve-society

In-store activity

The start of the 2016/17 financial year has seen more investment in in-store activity, in conjunction with the mushroom industry. A total of 873 Coles and Woolworths stores will have in-store demonstrations over a six month period of the marketing campaign.

As of the end of October, 142 Coles stores have had a demonstration, with activity starting to roll out in Woolworths supermarkets from November.


Sampling inside Coles supermarkets

Social media

The onion marketing campaign also continues to focus on social media. The Instagram and Twitter accounts (@secretserve) have regular posts to engage consumers. A Facebook page is also launching during November, with a focus on continuing a ‘Secret Serve Society’ through the use of both celebrities and the public sharing their own recipes and ideas. This will also feed back into the www.secretserve.com.au website.

Coming up

A new suite of summer recipes is currently in development and will be launched in the coming months, coinciding with in-store and social media activity.



Clinton and Hayley Griffiths are resilient onion farmers determined to carry on in the industry where Clinton’s father and grandfather made their mark.

When their full-time employee moved on three years ago, the pair decided to take on all the work themselves, seeking assistance from casuals only when necessary. “We thought we’d give it a crack. The last few seasons have been a bit hard, but when you look over your shoulder and there’s no-one else there, then I guess you’re the person to do it!”

Clinton said the new system had its benefits, particularly after a series of difficult seasons. “We began packing our own stuff a few years ago. I thought, if we’re going to go broke I’m not going to blame someone else, so I made a change. My theory was if it didn’t work out, at least we could say we tried.”

And now? “Now I can really see a future. I think we have better quality control, we can take more premium lines and be proud of what we produce and proud of what we sell,” Clinton said.

Willow Produce is situated on 750 acres in Walker Flat, South Australia. Clinton and Hayley grow 50 acres of onions each year, and also run cows and grow lucerne and potatoes.

“I was always going to be a farmer – taking over from your farm is just what you did,” Clinton said. “I like the challenge. Mother Nature keeps you honest. If we don’t work around the clock, we work around Mother Nature.”

Most Willow Produce onions are sold in Melbourne, with some sold locally and a small number sold in Queensland.

“We supply some local green grocers and they’re really happy to be on board and selling local produce. We really do need to look after our own. Old-school farming was about selling your stuff at your back door, to the local shop. These days people are looking over the fence and thinking it looks better and the product is going further and further.”

Clinton said he and Hayley were aiming to pack one to two million onions a year and this season has been going well, although the industry is not without its challenges.

“For example, the cost of everything has gone up, but the price of our produce seems to stay the same, even if it fluctuates at the supermarket. Honestly, we don’t look after our farmers.”

Clinton said he was interested in seeing new markets investigated and importing lessened, to reduce situations of oversupply. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the game by planting early and planting later, but I think everyone’s doing the same and there’s an oversupply. It’s a big risk – you’re putting a lot of money out there for sometimes very little return.”

Clinton added that growing new varieties was also a priority, noting that new pink-root-tolerant onion varieties are being trialled at the Willow Produce farm. “Last season I had some good results with different varieties, so it will be interesting to see if I can back it up again this year.”

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