( File photo )

With a start date lagging more than a week later than last year, Georgia’s Vidalia onion shipments were off to a predictably slower start early this season.

However, Vidalia industry leaders say harvest is progressing well and quality and packouts are strong so far.

Vidalia onion growers started harvest April 20 this year compared to April 12 last year.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show Georgia onion shipments the week of April 29 to May 5 totaled 390,000 40-pound cartons, down 22% from 497,500 cartons the same week a year ago. Season-to-date shipments of Georgia onions through May 5 totaled 1.01 million 40-pound cartons, down 48% from 1.925 million cartons shipped at the same time a year ago. 

A crop of about 5 million cartons is expected for Vidalia onions, said Bob Stafford, interim director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, the Vidalia, Ga.-based marketing order. That compares with about 5.7 million 40-pound units of sweet onions shipped a year ago. Truck availability has been sufficient so far, he said.

Vidalia growers have storage capacity of about 3 million cartons, Stafford said.

Harvest was about halfway finished and could be completed by late May, he said. Quality has been strong so far, though earlier cold was expected to result in slightly less colossal and jumbo sizes this season.

“We have a good range of sizes and a very marketable crop,” he said. 


Ideal harvest

Weather was perfect for onion harvest, said Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC.

With 500 workers in the field clipping onions by hand, he said Bland Farm harvests about 50 truckloads of onions per day. At that pace six days per week, it takes the firm about six weeks to harvest its crop, he said. This year, harvest is projected to be done about May 22 or May 23, he said.

Bland said the yield per acre of onions is less than last year, but it appears that higher quality coming out of the fields could translate to higher fresh onion packouts. 

“We could actually pack out more onions per acre because of the of the fact that quality is perfect,” he said.

Earlier cold weather may have limited size but had no effect on quality, he said

Bland predicted the region may produce more bagged onions this year, estimating his firm could ship 60% to 65% in bags and the rest in bulk.

While that is slightly more bagged onions this year compared to a year ago, Bland said the growth of bagged Vidalia onions has been inching higher in the last decade.

Bland Farms expects to transition out of Vidalia supply by the end of August or first September and into Peruvian onions, he said.

“The crop is excellent and has sized up good,” said Bo Herndon, president of Lyons, Ga.-based grower-shipper L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc., Vidalia, Ga. “We couldn’t ask for a better crop.”

Herndon said his company was about 65% finished with harvest as of May 8 and should wrap up harvest by May 20.

With cold damage earlier in the season, Herndon believes the Vidalia crop could be down about 20% compared with a year ago. With about 300,000 cartons of storage capacity, Herndon expects to have onions until early to mid-September.


Market conditions

Prices for Vidalia onions were running slightly ahead of year-ago levels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Shipping point prices for Vidalia jumbo conventional onions in 40-pound cartons ranged from $12-16 per carton on May 8, while organic jumbo Vidalia onions traded at $22-26 per carton.

On May 8 a year ago, conventional Vidalia jumbo onion traded at $11-14 per carton and organic jumbos traded at $22-24 per carton.