LYONS, Ga. — M&T Farms opens the season with a new marketing firm.

The grower-shipper signed on with J&D Produce Inc., Edinburg, Texas, after Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo, Fla.-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., left the sweet onion deal, said Aries Haygood, M&T’s operations manager.

Haygood said this is J&D’s first season in the Vidalia deal. He said J&D owner Jimmy Bassetti and his sales staff remain highly motivated.

J&D markets onions throughout the year from regions including Texas, New Mexico, Peru and Mexico.

Duda left the sweet onion deal voluntarily, said Nichole Towell, Duda’s marketing development manager.

“After a lot of thought and planning, Duda Farm Fresh Foods has decided that it would be best for all parties interested that we exit the Vidalia onion program,” she said.

“Our longstanding relationship with M&T Farms as an exclusive marketer has been dissolved. We felt that without being able to offer a year-round sweet program, we were not bringing the value to the onion category that we had in past years when we were a year-round, full-service onion grower-packer-marketer.”

Towell said Duda didn’t make its decision lightly and said company officials felt M&T would need to be part of a year-round sweet onion marketing plan to continue to be a viable Vidalia onion supplier.

Haygood said J&D’s horticulturalist has visited M&T’s fields and provided insights on growing quality onions.

Re-elected to his second term as chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee, Haygood said he and his fellow committee officers are keeping an eye on the future and expressed some ideas on how the industry can better serve its consumers.

“We have a young crew on the board,” Haygood said.

“Some of the younger guys from each farm that’s on board now, we’ve all tried to put together ideas on how we can look to the future and create some goals and plans to try to achieve more demand year in and year out.

“We’re really trying to get people involved and figure out ways we can better ourselves. One thing about us, we’re never happy every year. We want to continue to get better and put out a more superior product. We want to do what it takes for us to stay on top.”

Haygood said younger generation leaders, such as Troy Bland, quality control and procurement manager for Bland Farms LLC, Glennville; Jamie Brannen, partner with Statesboro-based Curry & Co. of Georgia LLC and Sweet Vidalia Farms; Blake Dasher of G&R Farms, Glennville; Kevin Hendrix, vice president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter; and Jason Herndon, farm manager of L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc.; pay attention to the older growers.

”We respect the older generation and listen to them because they have experience,” Haygood said.

“When things change so much, and people don’t know what direction they’re going in, you can find yourself in a lull, going through the motions. We feel this is a way to get over that. We’re trying to continue bringing up good ideas.”