(UPDATED WITH VIDEO, March 21) VIDALIA — The official start date for shipping Vidalia onions is April 15, but some growers have small volumes they believe will be on the way to retailers as early as April 8.
Many growers said they are optimistic about pricing as the Vidalia deal nears, partly because of lower supplies coming out of Texas.
Kevin Hendrix, chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee and vice president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, Ga., said he expected the season to begin with 40-pound cartons in the $22-$26 range.
“I just got an e-mail from someone in South Texas today (March 15) and supplies are tight,” Hendrix said.
Others in the Vidalia deal had similar information.
Barry Rogers, president of Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla., markets Vidalias from three growers and said March 19 was the first day that Texas had enough sweet yellow onions for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report.
“It’s very unusual for Texas to not have reportable volumes until March 19,” Rogers said, adding that the USDA had quoted the Texas yellows at $18 per 40-pound carton.
Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council, Vidalia, Ga., said the council’s special committee recommended the start date on March 18. A spokeswoman for the state agriculture department confirmed March 19 the department had approved the growers’ recommendation, setting the Vidalia start on tax day.
“The recommendation was unanimous,” Stafford said. “There will be some that start shipping a little earlier, but they will be required to have special inspections.”
Digging will begin the first week of April in some of the fields handled by Van Solkema Produce Co., Byron Center, Mich., said Todd Van Solkema, salesman.
“The stand is phenomenal,” Van Solkema said. “Compared to last year it looks 1,000 times better.”
An outbreak of downey mildew just before the beginning of the deal last year took out about a third of the total Vidalia crop, Stafford said.
This year rain — from 10 to 24 inches across the Vidalia region — in late February caused some issues. Fertilizer was washed away and terraces in some fields gave way under the deluge, leaving low spots under water. Some growers expect losses of 5% to 10% overall.
However, good weather through late-March and a little extra attention from growers had most in the industry feeling positive, though they said they were holding their breath until they could start undercutting the early crop.
“We tightened up a little on our spray program,” said Jason Herndon, manager at L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc., Lyons, Ga. “We went from the usual seven-day schedule to every five days. The sizes and yields are looking very good. This year’s crop has huge potential.”