New Mexico onion production will begin using mechanical harvesters in the near future in order to stay competitive in today's market. Past onion breeding objectives have focused on improving onions for hand harvesting instead of mechanical harvesting. Our breeding program is starting to evaluate germplasm for bulb firmness. The objectives of this study were to evaluate hybrid lines for their bulb firmness, to compare two methods of measuring bulb firmness, and to compare bulb firmness using two different production schemes. Bulb firmness of spring-transplanted and spring-seeded intermediate-day hybrid breeding lines was measured using a digital FFF-series durometer and a subjective rating of firmness achieved by squeezing bulbs. Bulbs were rated on a scale of 1 (soft) to 9 (hard). In general, these hybrid lines produced very firm to hard onions whether the lines were transplanted or direct-seeded. Bulb firmness of these lines measured with the durometer was greater when the lines were direct-seeded (74.9) than when transplanted (73.5). Conversely, when firmness was measured with our subjective rating, transplanted onions exhibited slightly greater firmness (8.9) than direct-seeded onions (8.8). For both transplanted and direct-seeded onions, durometer readings were weakly correlated in a positive fashion with our subjective rating. In general, durometer readings gave a greater spread in firmness measurements with a range of 69.6 to 77.8 in firmness values. Subjective ratings of bulb firmness ranged from 8.5 to 9.0. Depending on the firmness of evaluated breeding lines, our subjective rating system should be adjusted to better distinguish firmness differences between bulbs.
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