VIDALIA, Ga. — Growers expect this year’s Vidalia onion season to start earlier than normal.

Because of an exceptionally mild winter and an early warm spring that accelerated onion maturity, retailers should expect volume to hit store shelves at least a week ahead of last year.

That warm weather, however, caused some disease problems on the early crop.

Richard Pazderski, director of sales for Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, said an onset of downy mildew is affecting some fields. He said growers aren’t certain about how the fungal disease could affect the overall deal.

“Industrywide, the plants for the most part still look healthy,” he said March 23.

“The crop looks like it will be a good crop and we should have good sizing. We will still have a marketable crop with plenty of volume going around.

“Before we market the way we normally do, we want to make sure the extent of the disease and how it will affect overall yields.”

Despite the early disease pressure, John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, said retailers should expect good promotable volumes.

“With wet humid weather in mid- to late March, the industry is concerned with yields per-acre being down as compared to last season,” he said in late March.

“Despite this, we are very optimistic about this year’s crop. The majority of the crop looks very nice at this point and we are looking forward to getting started.”

Grower-shippers set April 12 as this year’s official season starting date, a week earlier than last year’s April 18 start date.

An advisory panel of grower-shippers and county agents determined the season’s starting date. While some shippers may start shipping before the official date, those shipments require inspection stickers of U.S. No. 1 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal-State Shipping Point Inspection Service.

Growers plan to harvest 12,676 acres, down from last season’s 13,500 acres, said Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council, who released the final acreage number on March 20.

Stafford said the fields he’s seen look good.

“They’re (the onions) are coming on fast,” Stafford said in late March. “They really are. This weather has really pumped them up. They’re looking good.”

L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc., Lyons, started harvesting some early onions March 23.

Because he received later transplants, L.G. “Bo” Herndon Jr., president, said he plans to start harvesting in volume in mid-April as normal and not as early as other growers.

“We planted on time for what we do and are pleased with where we’re at,” he said in late March. “I have been riding my crop for the last three to four days, walking it and checking it, and can say we have a real good crop coming. The foliage looks good and it’s sizing up.”

R.E. Hendrix, president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, noted similar crop growth. Hendrix planned to begin its first harvesting April 7.

“The quality of the crop looks good,” he said in late March. “The sizing should also be good.”

Hendrix said this season should bring strong volumes of jumbos.

Last season brought a strong range of sizings that filled retail orders. Normally, jumbos constitute about 60% of packouts with mediums at 30% and colossals at 10%. Mediums ship primarily in bags with jumbos and colossals filling bulk bins.

In late March, Bland’s Pazderski quoted 40-pound cartons of Mexican and Texas grano sweet onions selling for $12-14.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 50-pound sacks of yellow grano sweets from Mexico in late March sold for $8 for colossals, $7-8 for jumbos and $9-10 for mediums with 40-pound cartons of yellow grano sweets selling for $10-12 for colossals with jumbos at $10.

In late March last year, the USDA reported 50-pound sacks of Mexican grano sweet yellow jumbos and mediums selling for $36 with 40-pound cartons of yellow grano sweets jumbos selling for $10.