Onion crop could see damage from below freezing temps - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Onion crop could see damage from below freezing temps

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As temperatures drop below freezing, onion farmers watch the thermometer, and the clock.

"When it drops into the 20s, I get concerned," explained farmer R.T. Stanley. "But when it drops into the teens, I get real worried."

Onion farmers have traditionally not worried about the freezing mark alone when it comes to the young seedlings they plant through the Fall.

Stanley said the topsoil provides some insulation to the plants that protects them to a point. Some farmers plow the field in an effort to pile extra dirt on top of the plants.

However, even that doesn't help when temperatures get to the extreme cold forecast this week. It also comes down to how long the temperature stays that low.

"Sometimes, it's not as bad if the temperatures jump back up during the day," added Cliff Riner of the UGA Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center in Toombs County. "The longer the temperature stays down, the more it could hurt."

Farmers grow the onions from seeds in a bed, then transplant them to fields. The plants spend part of the winter dormant before they begin to grow. Riner said the dormant plants can handle the freeze better than later after they begin to grow. 

Farmers won't know if they've suffered any damage, or to what extent, for a few weeks, possibly into February.

Onion farmers across a 20 county region plant 14,000 to 15,000 acres annually. The crop generates nearly $200 million to Georgia's economy.

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