Machinery and Equipment Guide

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Machinery and equipment required for onion production will vary by a grower’s preferred production method and operation size. The following discussion shares basic machinery and equipment needs for onion production. Depending on a grower’s operation size, expertise and previous machinery investments, the grower must determine whether to purchase and operate the equipment, engage a custom service provider or possibly rent and operate the necessary equipment.

Machinery and Equipment Needs

Site preparation for an onion crop involves using a moldboard plow, disk and harrow. If the planting site had grown a fall cover crop, then remove the cover crop by plowing at an 8- to 10-inch depth. In cases when the cover crop residues are dense, growers may need to manage those residues by mowing the cover before plowing the site. Operations that choose to plant onions in raised beds may require a bed shaper to create the 4- to 6-inch high raised planting site, lay a drip irrigation line and cover the bed with plastic mulch.

When applying fertilizer, operations have a choice to broadcast the fertilizer before planting or use a banded application at planting. Those that select a broadcast application should use a disk to incorporate the fertilizer. Additional nitrogen fertilizer may be applied, depending on soil conditions, via sidedressing early in the growing season or via fertigation. When planting onion sets or transplants, operations may choose to use specialized planting equipment. As an alternative, they may hire planting crews.

Post-planting, operations may require a sprayer to apply herbicide, fungicide or insecticide to control weeds, diseases and pests, respectively. To control weeds, growers may also use cultivation before bulbs form, and hand weeding is an alternative to mechanical weed management efforts. Water serves as a critical input to onion production because the plants lack well-developed roots. Drip irrigation systems are an option to deliver irrigation water to plants. Overhead irrigation systems are an alternative, but they may increase disease risk as they subject above-ground vegetation to moisture.

To begin the harvest, use a disk to loosen the soil. Alternatively, a rotating bar or fixed blade can cut about an inch below the onion bulbs. Next, pull onion bulbs from the soil, and cut all but an inch of the tops from the bulb. As an implement cuts below the onion bulbs, some operators equip the implement with a rope that moves across the soil surface to roll the onions and position their roots above the soil surface. Note, exposing too much of the bulb to the sun may lead to the onion bulbs developing blisters. Other machinery is equipped to not only harvest the bulbs but also remove plant tops. Operations will require a wagon or other equipment to move onions from the growing location to the curing location and storage site. In some cases, however, onions are cured in the field.

Basic Equipment and Machinery Needs for Onion Production

Needed Equipment
Tractor X
Moldboard plow X
Disk X
Harrow X
Fertilizer spreader X
Sidedresser X
Sprayer X
Drip irrigation X
Wagon X



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Kaiser, Cheryl and Matt Ernst. 2017. Onions. University of Kentucky. Lexington, KY 40506.

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