As the Vidalia onion season started in mid-April, growers feared they had a disaster on their hands. With seed stem bolting through the crop, it appeared that as much as half the Vidalia deal would disappear. For the first half of the season those projections were correct. But perfect weather for second-half Vidalias has flushed the seed stem issue from the fields and size, yields and quality are tremendous.
In fact, some growers say second-half volume will actually make up for volume lost in the first half of the season.
“We look to have a very strong storage crop that will last us well into the months of June, July and August. We look to have no problems filling up our storage,” said Troy Bland, director of quality control and procurement for Bland Farms in Glennville, GA. “We’re going to put just as many onions in storage as we would if we didn’t have the seed stem issue. I think a lot of people got scared of the seed stem issue at the beginning of the season. What we are bringing in has been phenomenal quality. The quality this year has been the best we’ve seen in a couple of years.”
The early news pushed some retailers off the Vidalia deal. Those who persevered have been rewarded. Those who did not can now promote Vidalias with confidence.
“Some true Vidalia retailers didn’t get scared, but some of them are and they backed off the promotion,” said John Williams of Herndon Farms in Lyons, GA. “We’ve got a heck of a crop to market now and over the next three months promotions need to be as big as they can – don’t go anywhere else for onions because we’ve got plenty of them.”
Torrential rains led to an outbreak of seed stem, which causes onions to bolt and go to seed. Once harvested, the stem rots quickly and the heart of the onion follows. But when the rains abated the result was “perfect growing conditions for the second half of our crop,” Williams said. “There is absolutely no disease pressure and the onions really sized up, there are a lot of jumbos and colossals. It’s really made up for the [first-half] losses.”
Said John Shuman of Shuman Produce in Reidsville, GA, “May 5 we’re sitting in church on Sunday morning, the sun came out, you could see it through the stained glass windows and it has shined every day since. It’s been windy, it’s been hot, just perfect conditions — you couldn’t have ordered them up any better. The onions have really responded, they are bright, they look good, quality is very high and we’re very excited about the turnaround. The early losses we had predicted are being diluted right now with really high yields on our mid- to late-season varieties and things are really looking up. I think you’re going to see a very good summer season for Vidalia onions with good availability and a stable, steady market.”
The tremendous second-half volume will allow Vidalia growers to extend their storage crop well beyond initial projections and through the summer months.
“It’s a high-quality crop and a lot more onions are going into storage than any of us ever felt like there would be; we have been really blessed,” Shuman said. “As a result of all of that the market has come off a little bit and it’s at a price range now that retailers can really get behind and promote it. The quality is here. The industry’s got enough storage onions available to supply their needs all summer.”
Added Williams, “People thought this was going to be a short crop and we thought we could be out of Vidalia by end of July, but I think we’re going to have Vidalias until the end of August, so the season will definitely be extended. We knew we had a pretty good crop on the back end but we’ve been blown away with these yields. Now we just have a lot of onions to sell.”