Following a strong 2020 season, the upcoming Vidalia onion season will likely see strength again.
John Shuman of Shuman Farms in Reidsville, GA says that while the official Vidalia onion acreage has not been reported yet to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, a recent poll taken by the Vidalia Onion Committee (VOC) shows acreage is anticipated to come in at around 10,000 acres. “That would be just a bit higher than last year when it was around 9, 600 acres,” he says.
It's anticipated that this year's Vidalia onion crop will come in slightly higher than 2020's.
To date, the season has seen more unique weather patterns. “The industry has had unusually cool weather and there’s been a lot of rain,” he says. On Shuman Farms’ crop, between 16”-18” of rain have fallen since December 25, 2020—the amount varies depending on field location. More recently, since Feb 01, 2021, 8-9” of rain has fallen. “The cool weather has helped with that though because it’s kept disease pressure off of the crop,” Shuman says.
That said, the cool weather has set the crop back somewhat though. “The University of Georgia measures heat units in a crop and most varieties take a certain number of heat units to mature and we only have ½ the heat units compared to this time last year. Because of that, we’re going to be a little bit later to harvest this year,” he says. While a formal first date to pack and ship Vidalias has not been announced yet, it generally is the Monday of the last full week in April.
COVID-19 and onions
To move that crop, Shuman anticipates strong demand again this season. “The sweet onion category performed very well in 2020 due to COVID-19. Shelf-stable ingredient items for home cooking did very well and onions were a part of that,” he says. “Vidalias, the industry as a whole, did not produce the size of crop we had in previous years. Overall tonnage was down. The industry was down 25 percent YOY in volume reported to the VOC. If we had the volume from 2017-2018, we would have been in a much better position to meet the record demand. But we met it with a short crop and the market stayed up.”
The sweet onion category performed very well in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Shuman anticipates strong demand, though not quite as strong as last year. “We do see an increase in demand that’s been sustained as we go into 2021. I don’t think some things around the pandemic, such as the vaccines, will get here in time to change consumer behaviour by spring and summer. Not in a fundamental way,” he says. Peruvian sweet onion pricing has remained stable all season.
Also factoring into sweet onion movement will be the recent freeze in Texas. “Texas is an important part of the spring sweet onion line up and the recent weather event will impact supplies. I don’t see anything between now and the Vidalia season that will affect the sweet onion market,” says Shuman. “I think demand will remain strong and the market will remain stable.”