Growing Innovation: Issue 11, July 13, 2016

Growing onions runs in the blood for this young Australian

Frank De Marco, De Marco Onions, NSW


A third-generation onion grower and packer from the Riverina in New South Wales, Frank De Marco is proud and passionate about what he does.

“Our family has been growing onions for over 50 years, so it’s a strong tradition,” said Frank. “My grandfather came over to Australia from Italy in the 1960s and jumped straight into farming, growing onions and other vegetables to supply markets across the country.”

In the mid-’80s Frank’s father took over the De Marco Onions business and in 2012 he in turn passed the reins to Frank and Frank’s younger brother, Jake. “It was a natural thing to carry on the tradition and keep the family’s onion dream alive,” Frank said. “I’d grown up on the farm and always knew I wanted to keep going on that path. It’s great that I get to do it with my brother, too – two brains are definitely better than one.”

Today the De Marco brothers grow onions on 600 acres and produce an average of 10,000 tonnes a year to supply supermarkets and domestic markets. Brown onions represent up to 8000 tonnes of their output, Spanish onions 2500 tonnes and white onions about 300 tonnes. They also grow 60 hectares of purple garlic and 160 hectares of different pumpkin varieties.

“Though it can be tough I honestly love everything about being an onion grower, from preparing the land to planting, watering, harvesting… all the day-to-day things. I even don’t mind the long and late hours,” Frank said. And his favourite thing? “At the end of the day, the smell of freshly harvested onions once they’ve arrived in the storage facility is just amazing.”

Frank is keen to keep things going for the next generation of De Marco growers, but said there are definite challenges in the industry. “I think imported onions are one the biggest issues we’re facing,” he said. “There’s no reason for Australians to be eating imported onions. Australian growers produce enough to supply the country.”

In 2012 Coles and Woolworths pledged to stock only Australian-grown onions, but imports still come in via other avenues. As well as decreasing prices and profits for Australian growers, Frank said imported onions mean home-grown goodness is wasted. “In the past we’ve had to dump a portion of our onions because of a market oversupply due to imports. It needs to stop.”

Growing Australia’s appetite for onions is also on the list of things Frank would like to see. He said he was happy to learn of the recent Secret Serve campaign, which aims to do just that. Launched by Hort Innovation in May this year, the marketing initiative is designed to future-proof the consumption of onions. It focuses on encouraging consumers to use onions in new and creative ways in everyday meals, and includes family friendly recipe ideas to get even the youngest family members eating onions.

“I really like the idea of getting kids to love onions now, so they’ll continue to want to eat them as they grow up,” Frank said. “Everyone’s got to have onions! They’re good for you, they taste great, and I absolutely love them. We should all have onions with everything.”

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