LYONS, Ga. — Vidalia grower-shippers are seeing a more typical sweet onion growing season, after last year’s delayed plantings and heavy rains that brought harvesting to a premature end in late May.

Though onion bulbs were starting to break ground in late February, growers said the season should start on time in mid- to late April.

L.G. “Bo” Herndon Jr., president of L.G. Herndon Jr Farms Inc., said early harvest should start in mid-April with the bulk of the main crop bringing larger volume on April 18.

“The crop is coming along now,” he said Feb. 23. “It’s growing. The onions are busting the ground and are beginning to put on some tops and come on with growth. We have had a hard and cold winter.

“The onions don’t like the cold then a warm up, and then another cold snap, as that causes seedstems and diseases. We have a clean crop this year. They have good stands,” Herndon said.

Though growers were initially concerned about the severe cold in southeastern Georgia in December, Robert Dasher, co-owner of G&R Farms, Glennville, said the cold didn’t cause any apparent damage because temperatures didn’t stay too cold long enough to harm plant quality.

“If there are some issues, we won’t see them until the bulbing stage,” he said Feb. 23. “If anything, the cold just hindered us from getting into the fields. In the past couple of days, you can tell of the growth in the onions. We are optimistic that things will be very good.”

G&R expects to ship around 450,000 40-pound cartons from 800 acres, similar to last season.

Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council, Vidalia, said growers experienced a rough start of the deal last season, but the overall season’s production was strong, at 4.5 million cartons. Growers planted about 12,100 acres this season.

The freezing weather in south Texas shouldn’t affect sweet onion volume there, said Michael Hively, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, which has operations in Donna, Texas. He recently visited the region and said temperatures weren’t cold enough to hurt the onions.

Though most growers have reported their Vidalia acreage to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Hively said he has talked with the commissioner’s office and said officials don’t believe the season will bring a significant increase in acreage. He said he expects the Vidalia deal to ship around 4 million 40-pound equivalent cartons. Bland normally ships about half of the deal’s volume, he said.

Hively said the plants look excellent and that growers are looking more normal markets.

“We should have a better quality crop this year than last year,” Hively said in late February. “We are being optimistic on the quality of the crop and the yield.”

Hively said last season’s Vidalia deal started at and never fell lower than $20 for a 40-pound carton.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 40-pound cartons of colossal and jumbo yellow granex sweet onions from Peru sold for $14-15 on Feb. 23.

Last year in late February, the USDA reported 40-pound cartons of yellow granex marked sweet from Peru repacked colossal and jumbo selling for $16.

Despite the extreme December cold, Aries Haygood, operations manager for M & T Farms, said the growing season has become more favorable.

“Things have turned around in last couple of weeks,” he said in late February. “We have finally received a good warm snap to get these onions growing. The onions look well and disease pressure has been low. We are just hoping for this weather to continue and not turn around and get below freezing any time soon, as a cold snap could hurt vegetation and leaf tops.”

Vidalia onion growers looking for normal season

 Doug Ohlemeier

Walt Dasher (left), co-owner of G&R Farms, Glennville, Ga., and co-owners Pam Dasher and Robert Dasher inspect Vidalia onions in late February. Grower-shippers say buyers should expect a more typical Vidalia season.