(June 10) VIDALIA, Ga. — A high fresh market and fewer storage onions has Vidalia sweet onion shippers singing a joyful song this season.

“The deal’s been very good for us,” said Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms, Reidsville.

“The Vidalias won’t be there this season,” he said. “People better get them while they can because they won’t be around for long.”

Late season rains, combined with harvesting that began a week late, have driven fresh prices up. Growers, taking advantage of the high fresh market, are putting fewer onions into storage than normal.

Jumbos are selling for $22 f.o.b., Bland said June 9.

This compares to last season in mid-June when yellow granex type U.S. No.1 40-pound cartons jumbos sold for $18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Cobbtown, which markets Vidalias for three growers, said he expected f.o.b.s to climb to $24 by the end of June. He said prices should level off in July.

Rainstorms that hit Memorial Day weekend and another one that soaked the area a week later shortened the onions’ shelf life, Shuman said.

“The rain just killed us,” said Tina Wheeler, executive director of Vidalia Onion Committee, Vidalia. “We had a beautiful crop. But we just couldn’t get them out soon enough.”

Wheeler said growers left some onions in the fields, to improve sizings. The ones that did get harvested didn’t have the sizes the deal has historically had, she said.

Controlled-atmosphere storage is down 40% from normal this season for Bland Farms, which accounts for 10% of the industry’s controlled-atmosphere storage capacity and 13% of the deal’s acreage.

“We didn’t put as many in as we normally do,” Bland said. “During the fresh season, we sold more than we normally do. The deal has been high all the way through.”

Growers, who normally don’t begin shipping out of controlled-atmosphere storage until mid-July, began filling storage onions in late May and early June.

Through the end of May, growers shipped 1.4 million 50-pound equivalent boxes, similar to past seasons, Wheeler said.

However, controlled-atmosphere shipments are down by 1.5 million boxes, she said.

“We will probably pack out 650,000 units out of storage,” Wheeler said.

Growers usually ship 2 million boxes out of storage, she said.

Bland said his Vidalia growing and shipping operation will run out of storage onions by July 15 and will be forced to source Peruvian sweet onions nearly two months earlier this year.

A higher than normal national dry onion market has also helped Vidalia prices, shippers say.

“When Texas or western onions are at a good price, it kind of gives us a real good strong floor to work off of,” Bland said.