Last year, Herndon Farms LLC of Lyons, GA, dodged a bullet in the form of downy mildew that took as much as a third of some growers’ crops but did not impact the Herndon deal. This year, Herndon dodged raindrops; 14-17 inches of rain soaked the region in late February, but strong winds came in and tidied up the excess water in quick fashion.
“The Vidalia onion industry had a lot of problems in 2012, but at Herndon we were able to solve those problems early on and started spraying quickly for downy mildew and made a pretty good crop,” said Sales Manager John Williams. “We kept our customers going three or four weeks longer than some of our competitors and we were able to keep our customers going through August. It was a combination of good luck, where our fields were and early spraying. We felt really blessed.”
With Northwest storage supplies winding down, few remaining sweet onions from Mexico and a 40 percent acreage reduction in Texas sweet onions over the past two seasons, Herndon is primed to reap a sweet harvest from this year’s Vidalia crop.
And even though the Vidalia deal is still Herndon’s crown jewel — owner L.G. (Bo) Herndon was inducted into the Vidalia Onion Growers Hall of Fame last year — the company has expanded its offerings and has set its sights on further heights.
Herndon is a growing producer of sweet potatoes, greens, corn and its trademarked “Lil’ Bo’s Petite Sweet Baby Vidalias.” It has also expanded its outreach into other sweet onion producing areas to make sure customers have a year-round supply with the “Herndon’s Finest” label.
“We’re building on a really good foundation with Bo and [nephew] Jason [Herndon] and what they’ve done over the years,” Mr. Williams said. “They do what they say they’re going to do, we pay our bills and we offer quality and service that are second to none — we’re definitely building the programs.”
For example, “We doubled what we did last year as far as the amount of imports we brought in from Peru, actually doubled that number,” Mr. Williams said. “We had a really good Peruvian season with a very good grower, we have a great relationship set up and are hoping to increase that another 25-50 percent this fall.”
Herndon is also working to increase its Georgia corn yields after a state-wide drop in per-acre production last year.
“We had a good corn season, prices were pretty strong,” Mr. Williams said, “so we’re trying to take some measures to get our corn yields back up for this go-round.”
Herndon is also getting a lot of attention for its new bunch onion label, “Lil’ Bo’s Petite Sweet Vidalia Onions,” named after Bryton Bo Kight, grandson of Bo Herndon.
“We have seen this item grow in popularity the last several years; they have a unique size and are versatile in the kitchen. So we wanted to develop an in-house label that would help our customers promote and showcase this item to its fullest potential,” said Mr. Williams. “With ‘Lil’ Bo’s’, Herndon Farms is helping to specify this product on the market, where it has otherwise been a vague and generic item.”