Coral BeachRobert Dasher, co-owner and the "R" in G&R Farms, measures the growth of a Vidalia onion with calipers. Dasher said the 2013 crop looks good, despite too much rain in late February and unusually cool temperatures the last week of March.VIDALIA, Ga. — With college basketball fans anxiously awaiting the 2013 championship in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome April 8, Vidalia onion growers are experiencing their own version of March Madness as some expect to begin shipping the same day as the big game.
“We’ve got our own kind of March Madness here,” said Walt Dasher, co-owner of G&R Farms, Glennville. “There’s so much that can happen in late March — hail, temperature fluctuations — and last year we didn’t see some of the issues with the downey mildew until we had started packing.”
Dasher said conditions look favorable for average to slightly above average yields in the G&R fields. He expects sizes to be average and slightly larger than typical.
However, a storm front rolled across the country the first weekend of spring and dumped 2-4 inches of rain across the Vidalia growing region.
Richard Pazderski, director of development for Utah Onions, said there were even reports of hail around the Glennville area, but he hadn’t seen it himself.
Most growers polled March 25 said the rain was a concern, but predictions of cold overnight temperatures for the last week of March were more troublesome.
“We need to make sure the necks are beginning to dry before we start digging,” Pazderski said. “This weather may slow us down a couple of days, but not too much longer.”
On March 25, Dasher revised his anticipated start date, saying the rain and cold could push shipping back to April 15-20.
Rain had roots gasping
Ronny Collins, chief executive officer of Plantation Sweets, Cobbtown, said he uses an old-time rule of thumb to help him determine when his Vidalias are out of danger.
“They always said until you see the full moon at the end of March, you aren’t safe from seed stems and other problems,” Collins said.
“This year we thought that heavy rain in February would drastically reduce our crop. But things have dried out since then, and we expect only a slight reduction overall with more jumbos instead of collosals this season.”
Rainfall totals were varied across the Vidalia growing region during the late February storms that brought an official end to a two-year drought. Some growers reported 10 inches of rain while others reported as much as 24 inches in a 10-day period.
In a few low spots, the ground was so saturated that the onion roots did a 180-degree turn and headed straight back up to the surface seeking oxygen, said Travis Collins, who operates Collins-based Mike & Travis Farms with his father Mike Collins.