(March 13, 1:26 p.m.) Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga., plans to purchase Cato, N.Y.-based Zappala Farms LLC, the largest yellow storage onion producer east of the Mississippi, and the agreement includes the use of Zappala’s Empire Sweets brand.

Bland Farms has agreed to purchase Zappala Farms for a total of $4.1 million, with $1.27 million to go toward the purchase of Zappala’s assets, including 1,350 acres of land and machinery, equipment and buildings involved in the farming operation.

The deal is subject to approval of a New York court, where Zappala filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 23.

“It looks like a very nice transition, and we’re both excited,” said Jim Zappala, president of Zappala Farms, who plans to remain as general manager. “I’m 56. There’s nobody with the wherewithal in New York state to take over a company this large, and the question was always who was going to take this when I retire.”

Michael Hively, chief financial officer and general manager of Bland Farms, said the company has put forth a sizeable down payment and has received creditors’ approval.

“In order for someone else to bid, another company will have to come in with a larger deposit and be in good standing with creditors,” Hively said. “That’s going to be tough, especially given the short time frame.”

Hively said labeling for Empire Sweets will remain the same but will include “Grown and packed by Bland Farms.”

Zappala said his other business, Empire Fresh-Cuts, which he co-owns with his brother Sam, will continue operating. Zappala’s oldest son, Cory, will continue working with Bland Farms.

Zappala’s onion crops were hit hard by three different hail storms last summer. Two in June devastated 170 acres, and another in July took out 70 more.

“We’d had bad weather the last few years,” said Zappala, whose company entered the onion business in 1927. “It was getting to the point where it was challenging.

“We just feel this was a great opportunity for both companies,” he said.

Bland, meanwhile, is in a growth mode. In the last year, the company debuted a year-round organic sweet onion program, acquired a farm in Utah, and opened a 110,000-square-foot facility in Donna, Texas.

Bland Farms ships onions from California, Colorado, Georgia, New York, Texas, Utah, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and sometimes Washington State. The company has had a Chilean program in the past, but Hively said the crop had quality issues in the past season and Bland didn’t market Chilean sweets.

The Empire Sweet onion harvest typically starts in late July and runs through the first week of September. The storage onion harvest lasts from late August through mid-October and Zappala usually ships through the end of the year.

“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Hively said. “It fits in well with what we’ve been doing around here the last several years.

“It’s a good improvement for us as trademark, and I think Jim is satisfied he’s out of this bind a little,” Hively said.

Zappala said the deal should be final the first week of April.