( Courtesy Shuman Farms )

Vidalia onion acreage in 2019 will hit a 10-year low, but growers say they should have ample supplies to get them through the upcoming season.

“Planted acreage is 9,262; the least we had over the last 10 years was 10,500,” said Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC.

Last year’s acreage totaled 11,251, according to the Vidalia Onion Committee.

The reason? Economics, he said.

“I’m telling you, this industry has been in a slump with pricing the last three or four years, and the way they changed the regulations to where we have a mandatory shipping date, killed the market before it starts,” Bland said.

Growers have struggled in recent years, and some have cut back, said John Shuman, president of Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Farms.

“While at least some of it can be blamed on the heavy rains during transplanting, I think the primary reason is the financial health of the industry right now is challenging,” he said. 

“It has been several tough years in a row for the Vidalia industry with prices falling below production costs. I think that is primarily what is driving the decrease in acreage this year.”

State agriculture officials have set April 22 as the official start date for the Vidalia season this year, Bland said.

“That’s too late,” he said. “What the whole thing is, everybody tries to go to market on the same day, and it’s ridiculous. There’s too much volume on one day, even though we’re going to have a short crop.”

A cold, wet winter disrupted some planting, but overall, a good crop is emerging, said Bob Stafford, director of the Vidalia, Ga.-based Vidalia Onion Committee, whose growing region includes parts of 20 counties in Georgia.

“We started off with a kind of bang but got a lot of water,” Stafford said. 
“We had to sit back and got our water. We’re going to be down a bit in acreage, but the onions look good, and I’ve been all over the area.”

Yield looks “pretty normal” this year, Stafford said.

“Figure 5-6 million units a year,” he said.

Bland said his crop looks excellent this year.

“We’ve had an exceptional growing conditions during the winter,” he said.

Suppliers can anticipate favorable market conditions, once the deal gets going, Bland said.

“The past couple of years, we’ve had basically an oversupply between Mexico, Texas and Vidalia. This year, Mexico is short — their crop is very limited. Texas is the same way. And Vidalia looks like we’re going to have a good opportunity to get a good market this year because supply and demand is going to be there.”

The first onions were expected around April 10, which would be a few days later than normal, Bland said.

Shuman also said his onions look good this year.

“We are excited about this year’s crop,” he said. 

“Despite heavy rains during transplanting and above average rainfall since, we are optimistic about what we are seeing — normal growth and good stands in the fields right now, with things progressing nicely so far.”

A spate of stormy weather — including tornados and hail — ripped through some regions of the South in late February, but it appeared to spare the Vidalia crop, said Rusty McLain, who runs the packing operation at Shuman Farms affiliate McLain Farms Inc. in Lyons, Ga.

“We came through it fine,” he said.

Lyons-based L.G. Herndon Farms Inc. dealt with periods of rainy conditions but endured, said John Williams, sales and marketing manager.

“It’s looking real good, beginning to grow and come on,” he said in early March. “We’ve had a real wet winter, and we were drying out.”

Glennville-based G&R Farms had similar challenges, said Walt Dasher, co-owner.

“Considering the wet weather we had during December during the latter part of our planting program, the current onions look pretty good,” he said. 

“I think all growers may have a touch of concern on their later plantings simple due to the wet weather and the delays we were faced with.” 

Sizing and quality were looking good, said Lauren Dees, sales and marketing manager with Lake Park, Ga.-based Generation Farms.

“I think it’s going to make a pretty onion,” she said.

The last weeks of the growing cycle would be the most important, said Mike Blume, sales and marketing director with Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing, a division of Progressive Produce LLC.

“Last year’s yields were less than average due to Mother Nature — we are cautiously optimistic that this year we will see more normal yields,” he said. 

“We are cautiously optimistic about this year’s Vidalia crop. We hope to get started sometime in mid-April and expect to have consistent supplies until early August.” 

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