Industry excited about early start to Vidalia onion season

There was a lot of internal celebration running rampant throughout those who deal in Vidalia onions when the Georgia Department of Agriculture announced that April 12 would be the official pack date for Vidalia onions — two weeks ahead of what was expected.

Growers first reached out to Commissioner Gary W. Black during a meeting in the 20-county Vidalia onion-growing region earlier in the month, persuading him to reconsider the date. Black agreed that because of the state of the crops, the earlier date made sense.Vidalia-beauty-11-copy

“I would like to thank all members of the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel, scientists from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, and our department of agriculture professionals in the growing region for their science-based input,” he said. “At this time, the 2017 crop is in excellent condition and considerably ahead of schedule thanks to good weather. We feel confident that this date will allow our Vidalia onion farmers to put the best product on the market for our consumers who have been waiting for that sweet Vidalia flavor.”

Susan A. Waters, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, noted the crop looks great and is considerably ahead of schedule due to the mild temperatures this winter, and the organization has already enacted a savvy marketing plan that will get the word out about the early start so consumers and retailers are ready.

Brett Williams, owner of B.G. Williams Farms, who is supplying Vidalia onions to Parker Farms this year for the first time, is seeing nothing but positives from the crop so far.

“We still have a month to go and March could be a rough time for weather, but we got off to such a good start and things should be great,” he said. “Last year we had a very similar crop in terms of quality and yield. The only thing different is this timing. This will allow us to extend our marketing window and harvest window, and takes some of the pressure off us because we don’t have to fit everything in a short window.”

Brian Kastick, president of the Charleston, WV-based Oso Sweet, feels the early start will help the segment get off to a strong start, since the onions will be ready in time for the Easter holiday.

“Thank goodness the commissioner set the start date a little earlier,” he said. “It looks healthy, it’s in good condition right now and it should be promotable volumes throughout the season.”

According to the rules of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Vidalia onions cannot be packed or sold prior to April 12, but those involved in the industry are ready to get things moving fast once the date comes and retailers can expect them in their stores soon after.

“The pack date of April 12 will ensure the highest quality onions are delivered to retail stores for consumers across the country,” said Brett McLain of McLain Farms, who is chairman of the advisory panel. “We put out the best quality crop to date last year as an industry and we are looking forward to doing that again.”

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Georgia farmers harvested 268 million pounds of Vidalia onions from 11,200 acres in 2015. Value of production for last year’s crop exceeded 120 million.

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