Vidalia onion crop losses could be significant because of severe seed stem problems, according to some shippers, but others say it’s too soon to tell and are optimistic they’ll have a promotable crop.
Early the week of April 15, the Vidalia Onion Committee began hearing reports from growers about widespread damage from seed stems, also known as bolters or flower stalks.
Seed stems, which can be brought on by excessive rain and cold temperatures, result when plants bolt and shoot up stalks with flowers, drying out and hollowing an onion’s core. Onions with seed stem cannot be shipped and are typically left in fields.
The Vidalia region endured heavy rains in February and March and unseasonably cold temperatures in late March and early April.
By April 24, shippers like Richard Pazderski, director of business development for Syracuse, Utah-based Utah Onions Inc., were confirming the earlier reports.
“Most are seeing 30-40% with seed stem,” he said. “And it could be a little higher. Some of the big shippers are greatly affected.”
In a typical year, seed stem losses are in the 2% to 3% range, Pazderski said.
Still, Pazderski said the 2013 Vidalia crop was a promotable crop, as long as shippers and retailers carefully managed their programs.
And some grower-shippers, like Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms, said it was too soon to tell the extent of losses.
“It’s across the board — some fields have a lot, some don’t have very many,” he said April 24. “In a couple of weeks we’ll know more.”
For the time being, Bland Farms assumes it will have enough Vidalias to at least keep its core customers happy.
“Right now we feel fairly confident we’ll be able to supply the needs of our customer base without a problem,” Bland said. “But we’re not taking orders from people we don’t normally do business with.”
Kevin Hendrix, vice president of Metter, Ga.-based Hendrix Produce Inc., also was taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“I don’t know if anybody has a handle on it yet,” Hendrix said April 24. “We don’t know what the young onions are going to do.”
Hendrix Produce is expecting an up-and-down year, Hendrix said, with volumes heavier some weeks and lighter others.
John Shuman, president of Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc., said that expected above-average yields could help offset the losses from seed stems.