14 Jul 2017

The Ropers – Red Onion Royalty

From Country Life, 9:16 pm on 14 July 2017
Lincoln, DJ, Makareta and Lance Roper in the packing shed

Lincoln, DJ, Makareta and Lance Roper in the packing shed Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Lance and Makereta Roper are the largest producers of peeled red onions in the South Island. They also grow pumpkins, peas and beans on their 62-hectare property near Lincoln in Canterbury.

They produce 500 to 800 tonnes of peeled red onions a year.

Every day trucks pick up the onions that have been sorted and peeled by eight full-time staff. Inside the processing building the odour is enough to make a grown man cry.

"When they arrive, for about 4 or 5 days they get watery eyes but then they get used to it," Lance says of his staff.

It's been a challenging few years for growing; dry during planting and when the onions are in the ground and wet for harvesting.

The Ropers have also had to grapple with changing rules around water use.

"We've had to put flow metres onto our irrigation well, we've had to put computers onto our irrigators, we've had to do moisture probes in the main paddocks of onions. The days of just irrigating four inches on your crop is gone now."

Lance and Makereta also run a flock of 450 breeding ewes that are not far off lambing. The sheep have become an important part of the growing operation.

"They clean the drains because we don't spray them now and they pick up any residue after the harvesters have been through."

During the school holidays, their sons Lincoln and DJ swap their school uniforms for gumboots and overalls. For Lincoln, 17, it's a good opportunity to learn on the job.

"Mainly it's tractor work and a little bit of office work has come in over the last couple of years so yeah it's good to get that whole, round farm perspective."