(June 8) Up to 25% of Vidalia’s onion crop could be left in the fields as shippers switch to storage, forced by June temperatures reaching 95 degrees and threatening to bake the exposed onions.

While they’ve been forced to destroy up to 10% of the crop in the past, mostly for quality reasons, Vidalia shippers said they’ve never left so many high-quality onions in the fields before.

“That’s not normal,” said Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council, Vidalia. “The yields on the early onions were so heavy, and we didn’t get in as many as we’d planned on, acreagewise.”

Retailers needn’t worry about receiving supplies of the onions, which typically draw a premium price because of the Vidalia brand, through the season’s end into September. Shippers said their controlled-atmosphere storage is full, and they’ll be able to meet demand.

That demand isn’t lacking, said Michael Hively, general manager of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga., the largest grower-shipper of Vidalia onions. Despite f.o.b.s that have trailed prices from last season, the 2.8 million 40-pound cartons shipped as of June 3 are 22% more than volumes at the same time last year.

PRICES

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 7 reported cartons of Vidalia onions were $8-10 for jumbos, with limited cold storage shipments at $11-12, and mediums coming from the field were $9-10. At the same time last year, jumbos were $12-14, with storage jumbos reaching $16, and mediums were at $10-12.

Prices are poised to rise as growers switched to the storage crop, and by the week of June 11, the majority of onions will be from storage. R.E. Hendrix, president of Hendrix Produce, Metter, Ga., said his company plans to raise jumbo cartons to $12 the week of June 11, followed by possible increases to $14 and $16 the following two weeks.

“Our demand went up for some reason in the last week, big time, and we just went from $8-9 to a solid $10 (a carton),” Hendrix said on June 5.

Vidalia jumbo cartons opened the season at $16-18, shippers said, but those prices didn’t last long.

“I think it was there for just a few loads, and then it went to $16, then $14, and right on down,” said R.T. Stanley, president of Stanley Farms, Vidalia, on June 5. “It’s been around $9-10 the last two or three weeks and there’s no profit at that, not for Vidalias.”

SERIES OF EVENTS

A series of events led to the unharvested crop, shippers said:

  • Texas shipped later than usual with higher volumes, bringing more fresh-crop onions to the market.


  • Vidalia yields were exceptional, and more quality onions on the packing lines meant more were going into the box.
    “Normally, you expect a packout at 85%, but we were at 95% coming out of the fields, the quality was that good,” Hively said.


  • Higher production. Hively said Bland Farms, the largest grower of Vidalia onions, lost 1,100 acres to hail damage in 2005. Bland Farms purchased onions from other growers to cover needs, Hively said.


  • Growers planted 14,000 acres this season, an increase of 500 acres, according to the USDA. As of June 3, Texas onion volumes were 20% higher than at the same time last season.