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.
But those losses will be real.
“It’s too soon to tell, but we do feel like there will be significant losses,” Shuman said.
Losses will likely affect supplies in June and July, he said. Shuman said this is the first year he can remember seed stem potentially affecting volumes.
On April 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $18-20 for 40-pound cartons of jumbo Vidalias, up from $14-16 last year at the same time.
The 2013 season won’t likely last as long, Pazderski said.
“I don’t think we’ll have full storage going into June, and I don’t think (shipments will last) into August,” he said.
Regardless of how much product is affected by seed stems, the onions that do make it onto retail shelves will be high-quality, Bland said.
“We’re able to put out a consistent product,” he said. “We’re fairly confident we have a good quality crop.”
“The onions look good,” he said. “There’s a little sour skin, but nothing out of the ordinary. No more than normal.”
The season also was going much more smoothly in its second week, the week of April 22, Pazderski said.
“It was a rough start — it was wet, everybody was trying to get into fields, and a lot was harvested immature,” he said. “But now everything looks pretty good.”