Late Vidalia onion crop means high demand by consumers

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Vidalia onion season, delayed for a couple of weeks by cool spring temperatures, is officially underway with strong demand and predictions of an unusually sweet, mild crop.

An advisory panel, consisting of growers, packers, crop specialists and others, decided for the first time to set April 28 as the official start date for the 2005 season because the crop has matured 10 to 14 days later than usual.

Delbert Bland, the state's largest grower, said he began shipping one minute after the deadline and his workers have been picking and packing around the clock, except Sunday.

Bland said he shipped 100,000 50-pound bags -- 100 truck loads -- the first day.

"All the chain stores wanted them at once," he said.

Reid Torrance, the county extension coordinator for Tattnall County, predicts growers will harvest about 12,000 acres this year, about 4,000 less than in 2004. Prices tumbled in 2004 when growers produced a bumper crop of 16,000 acres, but with fewer onions this year, prices should remain strong throughout the season, Torrance said.

With the late crop, some of the 108 registered growers are still waiting for onions to mature, but shipping should be in full swing by the end of the week, he said.

Above average rainfall this spring has reduced sulfur levels, a source of onion pungency, making for an unusually sweet, mild crop, Torrance said.

A Vidalia has to be a yellow granex variety that is flatter than tall and meets the industry's standard for sweetness and mildness -- a standard that is written into state law. The state limits the growing area to all or parts of 13 southeastern Georgia counties.

Bland said Vidalias have been able to hold their own through the years against competing sweet onions from Washington, Colorado and even other countries, including Mexico.

"There's no doubt in my mind that they still have the mystique they did originally," he said. "They only make you cry when they're gone."

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