VIDALIA, Ga. — A late March hailstorm shouldn’t cripple this season’s Vidalia onion harvest, grower-shippers report in early estimates.
The hail, which struck the afternoon of March 27, damaged up to 500 acres and slightly affected another 1,000 or so acres, said John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga.
Because of increased plantings this season, Shuman said he didn’t expect the hail to cause supply gaps. He said he drove around southeast Georgia growing areas and surveyed damage.
According to the Vidalia Onion Business Council, Vidalia, Ga., growers this season planted 12,500 acres, up from the 12,096 last year. From 2006-10, growers planted an average 12,046 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The industry did receive some minor damage, but with the anticipated increase in yields, we feel like the industry will have very good production this year,” Shuman said March 29.
“When it’s all said and done, the industry should have a normal season. This shouldn’t produce any overall harmful effects.”
In mid-March, a group of growers and industry representatives scheduled April 18 as the season’s official shipping start date.
Shuman said the date is a symbolic date and he expects many growers to begin harvesting April 11. He said his growers plan to begin April 15.
Despite the hail, Shuman said he expects strong quality.
Many growers said they expect to begin shipping around April 20, later than the normal April 15 start.
“The early onions will be on time,” said L.G. “Bo” Herndon Jr., president of L.G. Herndon Jr Farms Inc., Lyons.
“But the real volume should be a little behind years past.”
Michael Hively, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, said conditions point to a favorable year.
“The crop looks excellent,” he said in late March.
“Everything we’re seeing in the field looks good. We should expect a good quality crop this year. The onions should be very sellable and have strong shelf life.”
That is opposed to last season where late season rains cut harvesting and harmed the appearance of the onions, Hively said.
Packers normally market fresh onions through late June and begin selling onions from controlled atmosphere storage through August.
Buyers should prepare for strong promotions from the start of the season, said John Tumino, marketing director of Richter and Co. Inc., Charlotte, N.C., which markets for Stanley Farms, Vidalia.
“Last year was an unreal year for us because of the world shortage of onions,” he said.