VIDALIA, Ga. — The arrival of this season’s Vidalia onions crop should be later than normal and produce smaller-sized onions.

Vidalia deal should see later start, smaller onions

Doug Ohlemeier

Michael Hively (left), general manager of Bland Farms Inc., Glennville, Ga., and Troy Bland, asset and transportation manager, check Vidalia onions in a field south of Reidsville, Ga., in late February. Buyers should expect this year’s Vidalia crop to be later starting, produce smaller sizes and shorter volumes.

Buyers should also expect to see shorter volume.

Grower-shippers say volume could be down as much as 30% after high rainfall delayed November and December plantings and colder than normal temperatures that hit the southeast Georgia Vidalia growing region in January and February stunted plant growth.

Buyers should expect pickings to start after April 20, a week to 10 days later than last season’s.

An advisory committee consisting of growers, shippers, county agents and the manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council is expected to meet in late March or early April to set an official season starting date to recommend to Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

Despite the tough growing conditions, John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, said he expects promotable volumes in May.

He said the season should be good for promoting consumer bags which packers fill with medium-size onions.

“The late-season plantings are likely to bring on a high percentage of mediums,” he said in late March. “There is no question we will have some sort of a loss because of all the weather that will compromise yields. With the acreage we have, we feel very optimistic about the way the onions look in the field now. Surprisingly, the onions are very clean considering what they have been through. If we have favorable conditions between now and harvest, we should have plenty of onions to sell.”

Richard Pazderski, sales and marketing director for Bland Farms Inc., Glennville, said a higher than normal industry stand loss could make for a 20% reduction in yields.

Pazderski estimates this year’s stand loss at 20%, larger than the industry’s preseason stand loss that normally remains in the teens.

Though an earlier industry estimate had this year’s crop pegged at 12,500 acres, Pazderski said anticipated acreage fell to 12,136 acres in late March.

He said it is questionable whether up to 2,000 acres planted in February and early March will make a crop.

Because of low volumes of sweet onions from Mexico and Texas, shippers said buyers should expect higher prices throughout the Vidalia deal, said John Tumino, marketing director of the Charlotte, N.C.-based Richter and Co. Inc., which markets for Stanley Farms.

He said Vidalia volume should be down up to 30%, produce a shortage of jumbos, and that sweet onion supplies won’t likely rebound until the San Joaquin deal begins in late June.

“Right through the Texas deal and while the Vidalias are in production, there will be a shortage that will continue well into June,” Tumino said in late March. “Though there have been a few crossings from Mexico, they have been very inconsistent. I don’t see any relief in the U.S. sweet onion supply until mid- to late June.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in mid-March March 19.. this is the latest date … will need to update as of March 23… reported 50-pound sacks of Mexican grano sweet yellow jumbos and mediums selling for $36 with 40-pound sacks of yellow grano sweets jumbos selling for $34-36.

That’s considerably higher than last year in late March when the USDA reported 40-pound cartons of Mexican yellow grano sweet colossals selling for $13-14 with jumbos at $12.

Because of May rains, many Vidalia growers last year finished their shipments out of controlled atmosphere storage shortly after the Fourth of July, more than a month earlier than normal.

Barry Rogers, president of Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla., said the weather problems could shorten this season’s storage deal as well. He said he expects harvesting to produce fewer boxes per acre.

“I should be a good May,” Rogers said in late March. “We will have promotable amounts of onions in May and good quality onions through June, depending on how short the crop I and how long it will last in the summer.”

Fresh Vidalia sales normally run during the first six weeks of the season before growers in early to mid-June begin selling storage onions.  The storage deal normally runs through Labor Day.