Vidalia growers, like producers of other fresh produce commodities, keep getting squeezed by rising costs in labor, food safety, environmental regulations and technology.

To remain competitive, these growers of southern Georgia’s trademarked sweet onion are consolidating with other companies or accepting acquisitions. That means the crop’s acreage stays the same, but with fewer grower companies.

In 2017, there were about 100 growers on the Vidalia Onion Committee, and today, membership has dropped to about 60 growers, said Bob Stafford, committee manager. 

It’s a number that keeps dropping every year. 

“We’re combining and getting more efficient to maintain the same acreage,” Stafford said. “The small farmer can’t make it anymore. You’ve got to team up with someone else.”

When Stafford started working with these growers 25 years ago, there were a couple of hundred, he said. 

“But they were small,” Stafford said.

Generation Farms, Vidalia, Ga., was acquired by Optimum Agriculture in December, said Lauren Dees, sales and marketing manager. Six years before that, the company was called Stanley Farms.

Optimum Agriculture is another family of farms, in Argentina, Uruguay and now Florida. 

The company is expanding its Southeast vegetable program with squash, garlic, cucumbers and sweet onions from Florida that would be harvested even earlier than Georgia’s Vidalia onions.

“We’re excited to increase our offerings as we expand the number of family farms we have,” Dees said. 

“We currently have a year-round sweet onion program, but we’re trying to increase our domestic program. We’re always learning.”

Since the 1990s, president and CEO John Shuman of Shuman Farms has partnered with other Vidalia growers to bring sweet onions to market, including Sikes Farms, Mclain Farms and Dry Branch Farms

“Years ago, we decided we could do more together than individually. That commitment built the RealSweet brand,” Shuman said. 

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