Growing  tomato vs onion growing which is better?

Before the start of every planting season, horticulture farmers have to make a difficult decision.

They have to choose a CROP to grow for the coming season.

So critical to the future success of their farm, is the decision they make.

Should they choose to grow the wrong crop, they could end up:

  • Losing their capital,
  • Going hungry,
  • Unable to support their families,
  • and at the WORST losing their farm to auctioneers.

Do you see why deciding what to grow is critical?

If we put ourselves in the farmers’ shoes, I know that you and I will carefully choose which crop to grow.

Rio Grande Tomato

Choosing What to Grow Heavily Taxes the Brain

“Why is that so,” You may ask.

You and I know of the hundreds of alternative crops available.

For that reason alone, you’ll find farmers occupied thinking of growing:

  • Maize vs beans,
  • Alfalfa vs Rhodes grass,
  • Tomato vs onion,
  • And many more.

As they decide what to grow, they have to consider many things.

For example, they have to reflect on:

  1. The amount of capital they need,
  2. Perishability of the crop,
  3. market availability,
  4. irrigation requirements,
  5. fertilizer needs,
  6. management, and many other things.

With all those things to consider, crop choice becomes a complex and risky process.

farming onions in Kenya

Farmers have to make a painstaking comparison of the yield and profitability of:

  1. one crop against another,
  2. the capital they need,
  3. market needs of each crop,
  4. before they decide what to grow for the coming season.

Many a farmer—have been ruined, just by making the wrong crop choice.

That’s why I am writing this post.

I want to help you compare two crop alternatives.

These crops are tomato and onion.


Many Farmers Often think About Growing  Tomato Vs Onion Growing

Since both tomato and onions are popular crops…

Many farmers, think of growing one, and discarding the other—or growing both.

To help you arrive at the right choice, I decided write an authoritative blog post on tomato versus onion farming.

However, I have an admission to make.

First, I want to concede that comparing the productivity, and potential of tomato and onion is not easy.

Why Comparing Tomato and Onion is not easy

  • The crops belong to two different species
  • The crops have different growth characteristics…
  • One is a fruiting crop, the other is a bulb forming crop.
  • Tomato is a warm season crop, while onion is a cool season crop

Now do you see how I have a bumpy road ahead?

That’s what farmers have to face every start of growing season.

Nevertheless, to make my work easy, yet authoritative, I decided to pick one popular variety of tomato (Rio Grande) versus another popular variety of onion (Red Creole).

I made this choice because:

  • Farmers in many parts of Kenya, Africa and the world have grown these two varieties and have some good info on their yield and potential.
  • Yield per acre of both crops is 30 tones.
  • Information on the productivity of the two varieties is widely available.

Of course, there are other superior tomato and onion varieties in the market.

However, for this contest, Rio Grande and Red Creole are the perfect match.

Similarities between tomato (Rio Grande) and onion (Red Creole)

Here is the thing:

Comparing tomato and onion farming is like comparing heaven and earth.

But, when we look at aspects of yield per acre for each crop, type of pollination for each, market demand, production systems, and other aspects of the two crops, we realize there are similarities.

You will note that…

  • Both have a yield potential of 30 tons an acre
  • Both are open pollinated varieties
  • Both are suitable for open field production
  • Both have been cultivated widely, thus info about them is readily available.

To come up with a meaningful comparison between tomato and onion,

I Had to Come up with what I call “comparison factors”

they include the following:

  1. Time taken from sowing to harvest

Considering this factor is very important.

It helps a farmer determine how fast he can take his produce to market.

A crop that has a shorter lifecycle, gets to the market sooner, thus generates income faster.

But when a crop has a longer lifecycle, it will generate income slowly.

Growth Period of Rio Grande Tomato vs Red Creole

So when it comes to the Rio Grande Tomato, when you sow the seeds in a nursery,

  • Seeds take 8 days to germinate into seedlings,
  • Seedlings take an additional 18 days to be ready for transplanting.
  • After transplanting the tomato seedlings into the open field, it takes another 90 days before you start harvesting.
  • The harvesting period will extend by another 20 days, since all tomatoes in a field don’t ripen at the same time.

In total, you’ll need 150 days from the date of sowing tomato seed to the date of harvest.

Red Creole Onion.

When you plant the onion seeds in a nursery,

  • Seeds will take about 15-20 days to germinate.
  • After germination, the seedlings grow slowly, and can take an additional 30 days before they are ready for transplanting in the open field.
  • The transplanted seedlings will need 120 days before they are ready for harvest

So when it comes to onion, you will need 170-180 days before your harvest.

The good thing with onions is that all of them get ready for harvest at the same time.

  1. Perishability of tomato versus onion

Horticulture farmers consider perishability before they decide to grow a crop.

The longer a crop stays fresh before spoiling, the better.

When it comes to perishability, tomato is more perishable than onion.

If a tomato farmer harvests his tomato at the red breaker stage, he will have 20 days to sell his produce.

On the other hand, if an onion farmer harvests his onions when they are fully cured, he will have up to 2 months to sell his produce.

  1. Cost of tomato versus onion seed

To grow one acre of tomato seed, you will need 100 grams of seed, which costs $11. ($1=103 Kenya shillings.

On the other hand, to grow one acre of onion, you will require 1 kilo of onion seed. One kilo of onion seed costs $ 75. (($1=103 Kenya shillings.)

From the above analysis, it is obvious that your tomato seed is cheaper than onion seed.

  1. Cost of land preparation of tomato versus onion

If we assume that a famer is considering to grow either of the vegetables in his farm, the cost for preparing land for either crop will be the same. At current market rates, to plow and harrow one acre will cost $100.

  1. Cost of fertilizer of tomato versus onion

When we compare the fertilizer requirements of both tomato and onion, tomato needs more fertilizer than onion. For this comparison, let us therefore assume the cost of fertilizer for growing tomato will be 20 % higher than onion.

  1. Cost of harvesting of tomato versus onion

All these two crops need a lot of labor to harvest. I will call a draw on this.

  1. Production costs of tomato vs onion

In this factor, onion is the winner. It costs much less to manage onions compared to managing onions.


  • Tomato require much higher inputs in terms of fertilizer, pesticides, and fungicides.
  • Tomato needs staking which is a time consuming and expensive exercise
  • You’ll need to go to the field for several rounds to harvest tomato.

What are your thoughts on growing tomato vs onion?

Related Post: Growing Tomatoes In the Open Field