Delbert Bland
Delbert Bland

For Delbert Bland, the ability to deliver what you promise is what makes for success in the produce industry.

When downy mildew disease affected the 2012 Vidalia onion crop, Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC, said he received one of his highest compliments when important retail customers said they never noticed any issues.

That ability to consistently supply customers without disruption gives Bland, 56, great pride.

“It’s an old cliché, but you are not any better than the guys that work for you, the ones driving a tractor or maintaining the agronomy of the crop or taking care of the packing shed,” he said. “With today’s technology, it still comes down to relationships. If you don’t continue to try to be the best you can be every day, you won’t be in front.”

Bland was raised on a farm that grew tomatoes, corn, soybeans and tobacco.

At 22, he became involved in the Vidalia onion business, starting with five acres.

His father and mentor, Raymond Bland, told him he didn’t mind growing them but wanted no part in selling them.

The experience taught the younger Bland thata what a grower can sell is more important than what he can grow.

Now one of the largest U.S. sweet onion growing and shipping operations, Bland Farms grows 5,000 acres throughout the U.S., Mexico and Peru.

The company was a pioneer in importing sweet onions, using controlled atmosphere storage to extend the season, adding Price Look-Up stickers and installing bagging machinery in the packingshed.

“They’ve been the ultimate marketers of a brand,” said Bill Kelly, a vice president of produce purchasing for Hy-Vee Food Stores Inc., West Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s all because of Delbert’s insight into packaging. Delbert’s a treat to work with and a real gentleman. His word is gold. They don’t get much better than Delbert.”

Bland’s staff is critical to providing customer support — one reason shoppers at K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., Abingdon, Va., often ask when the Vidalias will begin arriving, said Keith Cox, produce category manager.

“Bland Farms has always been able to deliver on time and always supports pre-planned ads in advance,” Cox said. “They stand behind what they promise not only on the costs of their goods, but the quality is always there which, is very important.”