VIDALIA, GA (WTOC) - It’s almost the sweetest time of the year in South Georgia for onion farmers.
Around 200 million pounds of Vidalia onions are sent across the country and Canada every year, and in order for an onion to carry the special Vidalia name, farmers must wait for a specific date before they can start selling them.
April 22 has been named the official packing date for Vidalia Sweet Onions. Many farmers are ready to get the onions out of the field, packed in their boxes, and ready to ship to you and across the country.
“We try to determine the best time that the onions are mature, you know, to get the quality onions that we are wanting to be on the shelves,” said Bob Stafford, Vidalia Onion Committee.
Years ago, before farmers were given a set date that they could sell onions, some were selling them too fast before they could mature.
“Back then, there was no pack date,” said Brett McLain, President, McLain Farms. “So, you could start whenever you felt like you had onions ready to go. The problem we were having was we were getting people who were putting immature onions on the retail shelves. Immature onions is not a good thing.”
Brett McLain and his family have been growing onions since 1986. He says to get the sweet taste, an onion needs time to grow and mature. It can’t be rushed onto a store shelf.
“We want to be on the retail shelves with a good quality, well-cured, well-matured onion that will sell, people will enjoy, the retailers will benefit from, consumers will definitely benefit from it.”
To fix the problem, an advisory panel was created. They meet with farmers in March to talk about recent conditions and take recommendations to hand over to agriculture leaders.
“We recommend that to the commissioner of agriculture. He puts that together and he announces what he thinks is the correct date.”
McLain says that date can sometimes be hard to set.
“It’s really tough to predict that date,” he said. “Weather is the one thing we can’t control. We can do a lot of things, but we can’t control the weather, and that dictates maturity.”
Wet fields at the end of 2018 kept some growers from planting a full crop.
“This season, we are down a couple thousand acres. We generally plant 10 to 11 to 12 and this year, we only have 9,356 acres, so we are down a couple thousand acres.”
That doesn’t mean there will be a shortage of onions any time soon. So far, farmers say this year is looking to be a great season.