VIDALIA, Ga. — A warmer than normal winter is maturing Vidalia onions and prompting grower-shippers to set an earlier season-opening shipping date.

Vidalia deal to start early with fewer growing acresGrowers are also reporting lower acreage.

Grower-shippers set April 12 as this year’s official season starting date, a week earlier than last year’s start date.

An advisory panel consisting of 14 grower-shippers and county agents determined the season’s starting date at a March 12 meeting, said Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

Some shippers may start shipping before the official date, but those shipments require inspection stickers of U.S. No. 1 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal-State Shipping Point Inspection Service, Stafford said.

In the industry’s first estimate of season acreage, growers plan to harvest 12,500 acres, down from last season’s 13,500 acres. Because the council is awaiting response from all growers, Stafford said the acreage numbers aren’t official but said they remain close.

Vidalia deal to start early with fewer growing acres“They (grower-shippers) want to start early,” Stafford said. “Some have promised to ship some onions to retail chains on Easter, April 8. We had all of the growers on the conference call. We seldom get that many on the call. It looks like there will be a few onions around the first part of the month but there won’t be that many.”

Richard Pazderski, director of sales for Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, said buyers should expect harvesting to begin at least a week earlier than normal.

“The crop will come on earlier than in past years,” he said in early March. “We are expecting to have sold volume by April 11, if not a little before.”

Pazderski called onion quality strong and said the plants experienced favorable winter growing conditions.

R.E. Hendrix, president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, said a couple of cold nights caused some minor damage but said it shouldn’t affect volume.

“There will be onions the first week of April,” Hendrix said in early March. “We should be at least a week earlier than normal unless Mother Nature says no. We still have March to go through. We have had some ice storms in March.”

Walt Dasher, co-owner of G&R Farms, Glennville, said conditions remain favorable.

“I’ve been riding around,” he said in early March. “The Blands, the Shumans, they’ve been growing and they all look the same. The overall crop looks pretty much the same and should be 10 days early.”

Grower-shippers say they hope the season starts with markets higher than last year’s opening, which saw prices begin at 

$14 for U.S. No. 1 40-pound cartons of jumbos, shippers said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 50-pound sacks of yellow grano-marked sweet onions jumbos and mediums from Mexico in early March sold for $6 with 40-pound cartons of yellow grano-marked sweet selling for $12 for colossals with jumbos at $10.

Last year in late February, the USDA reported 40-pound cartons of colossal and jumbo yellow granex sweet onions from Peru selling for $14-15.