Vidalia onion growers say they expect normal volumes, good quality and a usual start to their deal this year.
“The crop looks good,” said Bob Stafford, interim director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, the Vidalia, Ga.-based marketing order.
“It’s not going to be a bumper crop, but it will be a normal crop.”
Growers got a New Year’s jolt when a freeze gripped the region and produced 2-3 inches of snow over most of the district in early January, Stafford said.
“The snow didn’t bother it, but some of them (the plants) were frozen,” he said.
“We probably lost 10% to 15%, but we did get the right amount of heat units we need, so we’re very happy with our quality. We’re going to have a good marketable crop.”
The losses also fall in the normal range, Stafford said.
“It seems we lose about that much for one reason or another each year,” he said.
Last year, the Vidalia district shipped 5.7 million 40-pound units of sweet onions, compared to 5.3 million in 2016, Stafford said.
“We always shoot for 5 million, so we’re going to shoot somewhere around that 5- to 5.5-million range,” he said.
The January cold was a bit of a concern, but February and March compensated, said Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC.
“We have about 9% plant loss on 2,500 acres, and that’s not out of the ordinary,” he said. “It could be better, but it’s not devastating. We actually plant 89,000 plants per acre. That’s not that much, when you get down to it.”
The first shipments should go out in mid-April, which would be a normal start, Bland said.
“Last year we were earlier than that, but April 15-20 is probably about average over the last 10 years,” he said.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture has set April 20 as the official pack date for Vidalia onions this season.
The crop will transition into storage around July 1, and supplies likely will be available through Labor Day, growers say.
The January chill had some growers shaking, but the crop emerged in good shape, said John Shuman, president of Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc.
“The crop has rebounded nicely to this point,” he said, noting he expected a “normal” crop.
“Quality is very nice at this point in the fields, with early varieties showing normal yields and mid- to late-season varieties showing a stand loss. We do expect these later onions to produce less yield than normal.”
The Vidalia District produced record crop yields in 2016 and 2017, but growers aren’t expecting a repeat in 2018, Shuman said.
“All things considered, we see this year’s crop being back to normal,” he said.
“The early varieties look good, with the mid-to late season varieties showing a stand loss from the cold weather. As of mid-March, it’s simply too early to tell at this point how those will yield.”
Growers hesitated to forecast market conditions for 2018.
“It’s a commodity, so it’s based off the supply,” said John Williams, Charlotte, N.C.-based sales and marketing manager with Lyons, Ga., grower-shipper L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc.
“The good thing about Vidalia is people know our time period, and they know there’s not a lot of competition during that time.”
As of March 16, 40-pound cartons of jumbo-sized yellow grano sweet onions from Mexico were $10-13. A year earlier, the same product was $10-16.
“It (the market) was probably a little lower than normal last year,” said Kevin Hendrix, vice president of Metter, Ga.-based Hendrix Produce Inc.
Jeff Brechler, salesman with Edinburg, Texas.-based J&D Produce Inc., agreed.
“It was OK. We would have liked to have seen a stronger market, but there’s just a lot of onions planted,” said Brechler, who sells Vidalia onions grown by Lyons, Ga.-based M&T Farms.
After some initial worry this year, the outlook brightened at G&R Farms in Glennville, said Walt Dasher, co-owner.
“We were gravely concerned right after (the freeze), because the onions looked really bad two weeks later. However, the Good Lord has really blessed us with some phenomenal weather since January and, in all honesty, we dodged a very big bullet because the crop rebounded well,” he said.
“Once that happened, you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize we may be OK after all.”