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Is Bill Gates buying up farms in Vidalia? Documents and growers link Microsoft founder to recent sales

VIDALIA, GA — It has been rumored and discussed on the streets here for months that the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or Cascade Investment LLC, the Gates’ private trust located in Kirkland, WA, is actively seeking to purchase producing farms in the Vidalia area, renowned for its sweet onions and the center of that industry.

Already, two entities — Coggins Farms in Lake Park, GA, and more recently Stanley Farms and its subsidiaries in Lyons, GA — have been sold and, while the trail is murky, documents and interviews with other Vidalia-area growers link the purchases to Kirkland and seemingly to Gates.Gates-1Vidalia, GA, produces the most famous onion in the world. What growers here want to know is why Bill Gates seemingly wants to be in the sweet onion business — and why he apparently does not want that fact widely known. (Photo by Chip Carter)

The Produce News recently obtained a copy of a letter written by Stanley Farms General Manager Vince Stanley to vendors and suppliers dated Oct. 1 and headlined, “Re: Change of Ownership.” An included W-9 IRS form showed that while the business name of the operation is Stanley Produce Georgia LLC, the owner is the Mt. Hood Administration Trust, with a listed address of a post office box in Kirkland. There is no readily available information on the trust.

Stanley wrote, “On Oct. 1, Stanley Produce Georgia LLC purchased the interests of [Stanley Farms subsidiaries] Vidalia Valley, Manning Farms and Vidalia Onion Farms. Please accept this letter as notice of such a change. The Stanley Family wants to personally let you, our valued customer, know that the entire staff you have come to rely on will 100 percent stay in place and will only add quality folks to better serve you!”

One visitor to the Stanley Farms Facebook page posted two questions about the sale, the second of which read, “Is or has Bill Gates already bought your farm business via Cascade Investments…? Seems he already bought Coggins Farms awhile back.”

Neither post had received a reply as of Oct. 13, when The Produce News‘ queries regarding the sale began; by mid-day Oct. 14, both posts had been removed.

The Produce News contacted the Gates Foundation, Cottonwood AG (based in Naperville, IL and thought to be an agricultural assets management operation for Gates’ interests) and others Oct. 13, but there were no replies to requests for information or interviews.

Derek Yurosek of Cottonwood AG, whose name has been mentioned by several Vidalia growers as a participant in some of the proceedings and whose LinkedIn profile shows a Kirkland address, forwarded The Produce News‘ email seeking information to several other Cottonwood AG email addresses and others from Los Arboles Management LLC, which also has a listed address of a post office box in Kirkland, albeit a different one. His message atop the email simply read, “Please do not respond.” It is unclear whether Yurosek intended to copy The Produce News on that email.

While the Gates connection is still just rumor to some, others claim more intimate knowledge of the dealings.

“I’ve actually met with them,” said one well-placed grower who asked to remain anonymous.

Gates’ agricultural interests are well-known. He has been an active and ongoing crusader in developing countries, helping provide locals with means of improving subsistence farming operations.

What everyone in Vidalia would like to know is why Gates seemingly wants to be in the sweet onion business — and why he apparently does not want that fact widely known if that is indeed the case.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Clove oil tested for weed control in organic Vidalia sweet onion

Weed control is one of the most challenging aspects of organic crop production. Most growers of certified organic crops rely heavily on proven cultural and mechanical weed control methods while limiting the use of approved herbicides. A new study of herbicides derived from clove oil tested the natural products’ effectiveness in controlling weeds in Vidalia® sweet onion crops.

“Cultivation with a tine weeder and hand weeding are the primary tools currently used for weed control in organic sweet onion (Allium ceps),” explained scientist W. Carroll Johnson, III. “However, conditions frequently arise that delay the initial cultivation; weeds that emerge during the delay are not effectively controlled by cultivation.” Johnson tested herbicides derived from natural products as a way to control these emerged weeds in organic Vidalia® sweet onion production. Johnson said that, although these types of herbicide have been studied previously, the majority of the studies were performed on warm-season crops and weeds. Vidalia® sweet onion is a dry bulb onion grown in Georgia as a cool-season (winter) crop.

To test the efficacy of the clove oil-derived herbicide, the researcher conducted irrigated field trials at the Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center near Lyons, Georgia. One treatment factor was sprayer output volume, with the sprayer calibrated at 25 and 50 gallons/acre. Herbicide treatments were applied with a carbon dioxide-pressurized tractor-mounted plot sprayer using spray tips of differing sizes.

The other treatment factor in the trials was adjuvants used with clove oil. An OMRI-listed clove oil herbicide was evaluated and applied at 10% by volume spray solution. The adjuvants for clove oil evaluated were a petroleum oil adjuvant at 1.25% by volume, a commercial product containing 20% citric acid at a rate of 0.375% by volume, a commercial adjuvant containing 20% saponins extracted from Yucca schidigera at 0.03% by volume, an emulsified petroleum insecticide at a rate of 1% by volume, clove oil alone (no adjuvant), and a nontreated control.

“The field experiments showed that weed control was not consistently improved by applying clove oil (10% by volume) with a sprayer calibrated at 50 gallons/acre compared with sprayer calibrated at 25 gallons/acre,” Johnson said, adding that occasional improvements in weed control did not affect onion yield, and that adjuvants provided minimal improvement in weed control from clove oil and did not consistently improve onion yield. “All clove oil herbicide treatments, regardless of adjuvant, had difficulty in maintaining an emulsion in the spray tank and needed near-constant agitation. This tendency proved to be very problematic and suggests another disadvantage to using clove oil for weed control in certified organic crop production,” Johnson noted.

“Given the lack of weed response and onion yields to clove oil applied in higher sprayer output volumes and the corresponding increase in clove oil cost when increasing sprayer output volume, we cannot recommend clove oil in organic Vidalia® sweet onion production systems,” Johnson said. The full report of the experiments was published in HortTechnology.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society for Horticultural Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Vidalia onions featured in Applebee’s new farm-to-table menu item

The Vidalia Onion Committee and Applebee’s have partnered to bring consumers a unique summer dish that boasts Georgia pride and farm-fresh flavor with the introduction of the new Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin, part of Applebee’s new summer menu.

Applebee’s is offering this promotional menu item, which features a seven-ounce sirloin topped with a grilled Vidalia onion slice and served with garlicky spinach, smashed and crisped red-skinned potatoes and a Hawaiian-style barbecue sauce, through Aug. 17.caplbApplebee’s will offer a new Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin as part of its summer menu. The dish will feature a seven-ounce sirloin topped with a grilled Vidalia onion slice and served with garlicky spinach, smashed and crisped red-skinned potatoes and a Hawaiian-style barbecue sauce.

The Kansas City, MO-based, 2,000-unit casual-dining brand of DineEquity Inc. estimated it will use as many as 23,000 pounds of onions per week during peak times this summer.

To launch the new dish, Applebee’s hosted a press conference at its restaurant in Dunwoody, GA, near the very first Applebee’s location in Decatur, GA. The restaurant was aptly named “VidaliaBees” for the day on April 25 as it accepted the ceremonial first Vidalia onion from representatives of the Vidalia Onion Committee.

Applebee’s Executive Chef Michael Slavin and brand representatives showcased the recipe.

“We are thrilled to provide our unique, sweet Vidalia’s to Applebee’s,” Susan Waters, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, said in a press release. “This flavorful dish provides a great opportunity to educate consumers on the seasonality and versatility of Vidalia onions.”

The Vidalia onion was named Georgia’s official state vegetable in 1990. Applebee’s has a special connection to Georgia, as Bill and T.J. Palmer opened the original T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs in Atlanta in 1980.

“Forget the polar vortex, and bring on summer fun,” Peter Czizek, Applebee’s vice president of culinary and menu strategy, added in the press release. “Our new menu is full of authentic flavors, and we can’t wait for our guests to taste how Vidalia onions take our steaks to the next level.”

Applebee’s is promoting the new menu item with a national television ad campaign combined with public relations and social media outreach.

The Vidalia Onion Committee and representatives from Applebee’s also introduced the Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin to food bloggers during a luncheon event on April 26 as part of a weekend field tour in Vidalia, Georgia. The committee will continue to promote the Applebee’s menu item on their social media platforms as well.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Vidalia onions featured in Applebee’s new farm-to-table menu item

The Vidalia Onion Committee and Applebee’s have partnered to bring consumers a unique summer dish that boasts Georgia pride and farm-fresh flavor with the introduction of the new Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin, part of Applebee’s new summer menu.

Applebee’s is offering this promotional menu item, which features a seven-ounce sirloin topped with a grilled Vidalia onion slice and served with garlicky spinach, smashed and crisped red-skinned potatoes and a Hawaiian-style barbecue sauce, through Aug. 17.caplbApplebee’s will offer a new Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin as part of its summer menu. The dish will feature a seven-ounce sirloin topped with a grilled Vidalia onion slice and served with garlicky spinach, smashed and crisped red-skinned potatoes and a Hawaiian-style barbecue sauce.

The Kansas City, MO-based, 2,000-unit casual-dining brand of DineEquity Inc. estimated it will use as many as 23,000 pounds of onions per week during peak times this summer.

To launch the new dish, Applebee’s hosted a press conference at its restaurant in Dunwoody, GA, near the very first Applebee’s location in Decatur, GA. The restaurant was aptly named “VidaliaBees” for the day on April 25 as it accepted the ceremonial first Vidalia onion from representatives of the Vidalia Onion Committee.

Applebee’s Executive Chef Michael Slavin and brand representatives showcased the recipe.

“We are thrilled to provide our unique, sweet Vidalia’s to Applebee’s,” Susan Waters, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, said in a press release. “This flavorful dish provides a great opportunity to educate consumers on the seasonality and versatility of Vidalia onions.”

The Vidalia onion was named Georgia’s official state vegetable in 1990. Applebee’s has a special connection to Georgia, as Bill and T.J. Palmer opened the original T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs in Atlanta in 1980.

“Forget the polar vortex, and bring on summer fun,” Peter Czizek, Applebee’s vice president of culinary and menu strategy, added in the press release. “Our new menu is full of authentic flavors, and we can’t wait for our guests to taste how Vidalia onions take our steaks to the next level.”

Applebee’s is promoting the new menu item with a national television ad campaign combined with public relations and social media outreach.

The Vidalia Onion Committee and representatives from Applebee’s also introduced the Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin to food bloggers during a luncheon event on April 26 as part of a weekend field tour in Vidalia, Georgia. The committee will continue to promote the Applebee’s menu item on their social media platforms as well.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Court sides with Bland Farms on ship date for Vidalia onions

Judge Cynthia D. Wright of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit of the Superior Court of Fulton County ruled in favor of Bland Farms’ challenge of the legality of the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s mandatory uniform start date for the shipping of Vidalia sweet onions.

As a result of the ruling, Bland Farms and other licensed Vidalia sweet onion growers will be able to continue shipping Vidalia sweet onions on their traditional timetable.

Delbert Bland, owner and president of Bland Farms, said he is pleased with the decision and feels that a mandate isn’t the best way to determine when the famous sweet onion is ready for shipment.

“Mother Nature will decide when our Vidalia sweet onions are ready to ship, not an arbitrary date on the calendar,” Bland said in a press release. “I’m glad that we’ll be able to ship our onions on the normal timetable and our customers can expect that.”

Bland added that he is pleased with the way this year’s Vidalia sweet onion crop is shaping up.

“It looks great and I feel good about it,” he added in the press release. “The quality looks like it could be excellent and it appears that we are going to have promotable quantities available.”

Customers can expect Vidalia sweet onions to be available around the same time this year as in years past, but there remains the possibility that onions could potentially be available by Easter.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Promotable volumes and good quality expected for Vidalia deal

Cooler weather will mean a later start to the Vidalia deal, following a pattern already established by other onion production areas this season, with volume not ramping up to full until a week or more after the mandatory April 21 pack and ship date recently established by Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black.

Frost earlier in the season took a bite out of this year’s crop, but at this early date it is impossible to project what that will amount to.Vidalia-1This sign welcomes visitors to ‘The Sweet Onion City’ of Vidalia, GA. Cool weather will mean a later start to the deal this year. (Photo by Chip Carter)

“We do have an issue in terms of what has been planted versus what the expectations were when we planted the crop,” said John Shuman of Shuman Produce in Reidsville, GA. “I’ve heard some predictions it’s going to be 20-25 percent down but even as late as March 18, I’m still not prepared to say that. We are going to have a slight reduction, but off of what? The hope of maximum yield? We don’t know sitting here in mid-March what that’s going to be yet. We will have a reduction from a 100 percent yield but as of right now we feel we’re going to have a nice crop in Vidalia.”

The mandatory pack date has caused some dissension among Vidalia growers in recent months, and a court case being heard as The Produce News went to press sought to overturn the commissioner’s ruling. Most Vidalia growers are in favor of a later start in order to make sure inferior early season product does not make it to market, but the matter will likely be moot in 2014 given the influence of weather.

“There will be onions available on April 21 but if you’ve got to buy that onion, don’t fill your pipelines up with it because it’s not what you need to promote and not what we want to ship from our farm. [As an industry] we’re looking at not having volume for 7-10 days after that,” said John Williams, sales and marketing manager for Herndon Farms of Lyons, GA.

Said Delbert Bland, owner of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA. “We feel like we’ve got a good crop of onions, we don’t see anything to hold us back right now. If we get good warm weather we feel like our crop is well on the way to being as good as we’ve had in several years and it’s going to be very promotable.”

Early starts have bitten Vidalia farmers over the last two seasons. In 2012, cool, wet weather in March led to an early outbreak of downy mildew that reduced yields. Last year, more of the same meant an April outbreak of seed stem, which caused as much as a quarter of the crop to bolt. Both crops rallied in the second half, especially last year when a late push more than made up for lost early volume.

But some retailers had already moved on and missed out on prime promotions with the world’s best-known onion.

Bland said the industry hurt itself by “crying wolf” early in the season, scaring retailers off the crop. Other growers said they were simply trying to avoid promises they were not sure they could keep. Either way, all Vidalia growers are hopeful retailers will stick with the deal this year regardless of the late start or any other early-season difficulties that may arise.

“Patience would be very prudent right now,” Shuman said.

Since sweet onions get most of their growth in the last month underground, it is too soon to tell how this year’s crop will size up. Consumer demand for medium bagged Vidalias has boomed in recent years as many shoppers are replacing standard cooking onions with sweet onions year-round and especially during Vidalia season.

In fact, Williams is hoping for a few more mediums than the last couple of seasons in this year’s crop “because the consumer packs have just gotten so popular. But it’s too early to tell how the breakdown is going to be.

“Sweet onions are here to stay and retailers are doing a good job keeping them in front of consumers, keeping them on their shelves,” Williams said. “When Vidalias come in they’re like, ‘Now we won’t just carry bulk, we’ll carry bags too’ and they are looking for more ways to promote them in the stores. It’s a good thing.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Cool weather delays start of Texas deal, new Vidalia ship date could extend season

The Texas onion deal will be a little late out of the gate this season but growers will get some help extending that season with a new later start date for Vidalia onion growers.instead

A cold winter by Texas standards — averaging about 10 degrees cooler than normal — will mean the Texas deal will not begin until about mid-March after harvest a week earlier. Mexico has also been behind this season due to cooler temperatures.

In late 2010, Texas onion growers appeared to be sitting pretty. They were coming off a year where their crop fetched as much as $ 40 a box — roughly a dollar a pound. Consumer demand had grown steadily for several years. Any past problems were squarely in the rearview mirror.

Then, as almost always happens, a few growers decided if some was good, more was better. Overplanting was rampant, production boomed. The predictable result of too much product on the market was a drop in pricing. Two years of struggle followed.

In 2013, growers cut back acreage by 40 percent. Most managed to work out water rights in drought-plagued Texas. The result was a return to solid markets and solid profitability.

Texas growers learned from the struggles of 2011-12, put that knowledge into play in 2013 and will follow the same template for 2014.

They may actually get a boost from an unlikely (and in some cases unwilling) ally as well — Vidalia onion growers. Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black earlier this year established a prohibition against early shipping of Vidalia onions. Though there is a court challenge under way, as it stands now, no Vidalia onions can be packed or shipped prior to April 15. Some Georgia growers said they will not even begin that soon this year.

That means Texas will have a wider window of exclusivity for its homegrown product, as much as a six-week window.

“Over the years the Vidalia growers have chipped away at the Texas deal by packing earlier and earlier,” said Marvin Davis of Tex Mex Sales in Weslaco, TX. “They weren’t doing themselves any favors by putting early-season product on the market before it was ready, some of them anyway. If consumers don’t have a good experience early in the season, they’re not going to come back.”

A judge is expected to rule on a court challenge to the Georgia pack-and-ship date some time in March. If the date is upheld, Texas growers will reclaim part of their original exclusivity window. If not, they stand to benefit anyway as some Vidalia growers have said they will not ship earlier onions regardless of the outcome of the judicial proceedings.

Meanwhile, “Sweet onions coming out of Mexico this year have been outstanding and the Texas crop looks even better,” said Delbert Bland of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA, which also has operations in Mexico and the Lone Star State. “With the new highway and bridge in Mexico, the Southwest is becoming more important in the onion deal every day.”

“It’s still early, but the crop looks really good,” added Tex Mex’s Mike Davis.

Lone Star State growers are looking at promising markets — in the low and mid-20s in late February and early March — and decreased production in Mexico this year after similar drops in 2013 bode well for Texas.

Some key growing areas also benefited from several significant rain events over the last few months that helped growers stave off ever-present worries about water supplies.

“Prices should be strong,” said Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association. “We still need moisture. But quality looks to be excellent and we will have a good supply of sweet onions out of Texas.”

In 2013 “there was one week in there you could actually call winter and that was it, the first week of January,” said Don Ed Holmes of The Onion House in Weslaco. This year the cooler weather provided a reverse of 2013.

And while the crop is late, Holmes was quick to note that onions are dormant during much of the production cycle, getting most of their growth in the month before harvest, and thus virtually impervious to cooler weather.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Cool weather delays start of Texas deal, new Vidalia ship date could extend season

The Texas onion deal will be a little late out of the gate this season but growers will get some help extending that season with a new later start date for Vidalia onion growers.instead

A cold winter by Texas standards — averaging about 10 degrees cooler than normal — will mean the Texas deal will not begin until about mid-March after harvest a week earlier. Mexico has also been behind this season due to cooler temperatures.

In late 2010, Texas onion growers appeared to be sitting pretty. They were coming off a year where their crop fetched as much as $ 40 a box — roughly a dollar a pound. Consumer demand had grown steadily for several years. Any past problems were squarely in the rearview mirror.

Then, as almost always happens, a few growers decided if some was good, more was better. Overplanting was rampant, production boomed. The predictable result of too much product on the market was a drop in pricing. Two years of struggle followed.

In 2013, growers cut back acreage by 40 percent. Most managed to work out water rights in drought-plagued Texas. The result was a return to solid markets and solid profitability.

Texas growers learned from the struggles of 2011-12, put that knowledge into play in 2013 and will follow the same template for 2014.

They may actually get a boost from an unlikely (and in some cases unwilling) ally as well — Vidalia onion growers. Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black earlier this year established a prohibition against early shipping of Vidalia onions. Though there is a court challenge under way, as it stands now, no Vidalia onions can be packed or shipped prior to April 15. Some Georgia growers said they will not even begin that soon this year.

That means Texas will have a wider window of exclusivity for its homegrown product, as much as a six-week window.

“Over the years the Vidalia growers have chipped away at the Texas deal by packing earlier and earlier,” said Marvin Davis of Tex Mex Sales in Weslaco, TX. “They weren’t doing themselves any favors by putting early-season product on the market before it was ready, some of them anyway. If consumers don’t have a good experience early in the season, they’re not going to come back.”

A judge is expected to rule on a court challenge to the Georgia pack-and-ship date some time in March. If the date is upheld, Texas growers will reclaim part of their original exclusivity window. If not, they stand to benefit anyway as some Vidalia growers have said they will not ship earlier onions regardless of the outcome of the judicial proceedings.

Meanwhile, “Sweet onions coming out of Mexico this year have been outstanding and the Texas crop looks even better,” said Delbert Bland of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA, which also has operations in Mexico and the Lone Star State. “With the new highway and bridge in Mexico, the Southwest is becoming more important in the onion deal every day.”

“It’s still early, but the crop looks really good,” added Tex Mex’s Mike Davis.

Lone Star State growers are looking at promising markets — in the low and mid-20s in late February and early March — and decreased production in Mexico this year after similar drops in 2013 bode well for Texas.

Some key growing areas also benefited from several significant rain events over the last few months that helped growers stave off ever-present worries about water supplies.

“Prices should be strong,” said Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association. “We still need moisture. But quality looks to be excellent and we will have a good supply of sweet onions out of Texas.”

In 2013 “there was one week in there you could actually call winter and that was it, the first week of January,” said Don Ed Holmes of The Onion House in Weslaco. This year the cooler weather provided a reverse of 2013.

And while the crop is late, Holmes was quick to note that onions are dormant during much of the production cycle, getting most of their growth in the month before harvest, and thus virtually impervious to cooler weather.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

2014 Vidalia Sweet Carrot™ season has begun

2014 Vidalia Sweet Carrot™ season has begun

Curry & Company’s 2014 Vidalia Sweet Carrot season is now underway. Despite the highly publicized Georgia winter weather, growing conditions have been good for carrots and the season will run from late February into June. Over 450 acres of Vidalia Sweet Carrots will be harvested exclusively in Georgia. The packing warehouse is located in Statesboro, GA.

According to Curry & Company’s Vidalia Sweet Carrot sales manager, Adam Blocker, “We are excited about the great flavour of our sweet carrots and so are our customers. Demand is up over 2013 as retailers like having something new and unique in their full sized carrot category. We discovered this niche in 2011 and it continues to create excitement.”

The emphasis in 2014 will be on cello carrots, and Curry & Company offers 1lb, 2lb., 3lb. and 5lb. carrot bags for consumers. There are also 25lb. and 50lb. bulk packages. In 2013, 2lb. bags were the number one sales item for Curry & Company.

Vidalia Sweet Carrots will be on display at Curry & Company’s booth #315 at the 2014 SEPC’s Southern Exposure Conference in Orlando, FL.

For more information:
Matt Curry
Curry & Co.
Tel: +1 503-393-6033
www.curryandco.com

Publication date: 2/25/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Curry & Co. kicks off Vidalia sweet carrot deal

Despite the highly publicized winter weather extremes that occurred in Georgia this year, Curry & Co. is off to a good start with its Vidalia sweet carrot season. Growing conditions have been good for carrots and the 2014 season is expected to run from late February into June.

Vidalia-Sweet-Carrots-tableOver 450 acres of Vidalia sweet carrots will be harvested exclusively in Georgia, and Curry & Co.’s packing warehouse is located in Statesboro, GA.

“We are excited about the great flavor of our sweet carrots, and so are our customers,” Adam Blocker, carrot sales manager for Curry & Co., said in a press release. “Demand is up over 2013 as retailers like having something new and unique in their full-sized carrot category. We discovered this niche in 2011 and it continues to create excitement.”

The emphasis in 2014 will be on cello carrots, and Curry & Company offers one-, two-, three- and five-pound carrot bags for consumers. There are also 25- and 50-pound bulk packages. In 2013, two-pound bags were the leading sales item for Curry & Co.

Curry & Co., headquartered in Brooks, OR, is a year-round supplier of sweet onions, onions and blueberries, and it has a seasonal blackberry program.

The company will feature its Vidalia sweet carrots at the Southeast Produce Council’s upcoming Southern Exposure conference in Orlando, FL.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Vidalia Onion Committee taps former assistant for top spot

NEW ORLEANS — Susan Waters, executive assistant to the Vidalia Onion Committee since 2009, has been named the organization’s new executive director after a six-month search.

Waters replaces Wendy Brannen, who held the post for eight years before departing to become director of consumer health and public relations for the U.S. Apple Association earlier this year.

The decision was made several days ago but, due to terms of the VOC watersSusan Waterscommittee’s U.S. Department of Agriculture marketing order, it could not be announced without that agency’s approval. With the government shutdown, news of Waters’ promotion could not be released until the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention, here.

Waters is a Vidalia native with ties to the industry going back to childhood. She spent a decade working with Farm Credit (now AgSouth) and another 16 years with the Georgia Board of Pardons & Paroles.

“It’s like a homecoming of sorts,” Waters said Oct. 23. “I actually knew a lot of the growers and their families when I was working for AgSouth. Some of our growers I graduated from high school with.”

Not only does Waters know the Vidalia onion committee, she has also become an increasingly familiar face throughout the industry, appearing at tradeshows and working side-by-side with Brannen on a string of highly successful marketing campaigns that have included pairings with Hollywood blockbusters and Nashville music stars.

“Susan is a sweet and sincere person who truly cares about the industry,” Brannen said. “That will help her do well in continuing with the VOC in this new role. I am happy to see her grow.”

Waters is grateful for the opportunity and excited about her expanded role with the committee.

“I enjoy what I do and I enjoy working with the farmers, they’re just a good group of people,” she said. “It’s a good situation.”

If Waters had any doubts about the position, they were erased as she has performed the duties of the office over the last six months on her own.

“I didn’t have time to think about it — I just did it,” Waters laughed. “I have had help — the committee members have all pitched in and been just great. They’ve offered to come answer phones, file, anything I need.”

Waters’ first major official challenge was preparing to represent the committee at PMA on short notice.

“I had a week-and-a-half to really prepare for PMA, it was quick, it was hard, but we made it through it and we’re doing pretty good,” Waters said. “I’m so fortunate to already know familiar faces — when I was at PMA it wasn’t like being thrown into a group of total strangers.”

While the focus for this year’s Vidalia marketing campaign is still taking shape, Waters suggests it will focus on the history and legacy of the world’s most famous onion.

“One thing we all want to do is make sure the public and especially the younger demographic are educated about what the Vidalia name was built on,” she said. “We want to get back to our roots and educate people even more about what exactly a Vidalia is. There was a visitor in our museum the other day who didn’t realize Vidalias are only grown in Georgia. Education is always going to be key to our success. There is always a new crop of consumers coming along and we want to make sure we reach them.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

New mandatory packing date for Vidalia onions announced

Vidalia-2The year 2014 will see a new beginning for the Georgia Grown Vidalia Sweet Onion, the official state vegetable. The decision has been made to set a mandatory packing date so that no Vidalia onions will be packed or shipped prior to April 21, 2014.

The new rule states that the Vidalia onion marketing season shall commence no sooner than 12:01 a.m. on the Monday of the last full week of April, each year. Vidalia onions shall not be packed or put into commerce prior to the announced packing date.

The Vidalia onion industry, with the help of Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, is taking steps toward assuring that retailers and consumers will receive Vidalia onions with the characteristics that made the onions famous.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Search is on for Vidalia Onion Committee’s new marketing order manager

After scoring major marketing successes that have paired the world’s most-famous onion with Hollywood and Nashville, the Vidalia Onion Committee is seeking a marketing order manager who is sweet on Georgia’s official state vegetable.

Previous VOC campaigns have paired Vidalia onions with the Hollywood blockbuster “Shrek Forever After” and with Nashville stars from the Universal Music Group.

Now the committee is seeking a new marketing manager to take Vidalia onions to the next level.

Based in Vidalia, GA, the marketing order manager is responsible for developing, implementing and supporting marketing and promotional efforts of the VOC through effective, results-focused marketing and promotional activities.

The VOC is looking for someone with a minimum two years experience in marketing and promotion or corresponding college course work; preference will be given to applicants with experience in agriculture, produce, retail and/or foodservice industry.

To apply, submit a one-page cover letter, current resume, a one-page essay briefly describing relevant marketing and promotional experience, and three professional references to: Selection Committee, PO Box 1609, 100 Vidalia Sweet Onion Drive, Vidalia, GA 30475. Materials must be received by 5 p.m. EST on Sept. 13.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Second half bumper crop of Vidalia onions will extend season through Labor Day with promotable volume

Consumers and retailers will get a bonus from Vidalia, GA, this year.

Torrential rains in the early part of the Vidalia onion season led to a widespread outbreak of seed stem that reduced volume and led to a poor first half. But from May 1 on, blue skies, hot temperatures and steady winds were the order of the day, resulting in a in a bumper crop of excellent quality onions that will keep promotable volumes available through Labor Day.

Vidalia-July-update-1Torrential rains led to a widespread outbreak of seed stem in Vidalia, GA, but perfect weather in the second half of the season has led to a bumper crop, with storage units filled to overflowing. (Photo by Chip Carter)The unexpected bonus will give consumers who feel like they missed out on the early part of the Vidalia deal a chance to catch up – and will also give retailers a chance to promote Vidalias much later in the summer than usual.

“The season started a little rocky with the early issues but it’s turned out to be a season of excellent volume with quality looking great out of storage,” said John Williams of Herndon Farms in Lyons, GA. “We should have plenty of onions to ship through Labor Day.

“The research we did in 2012 with the Nielsen Perishables Group showed us that consumers are willing to pay a 20 percent premium for sweet onions,” said Delbert Bland, owner and president of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA. “With Vidalia being the most popular variety, we’ve got plenty of volume to supply our customers so they can make the most of the season before shifting into another variety.”

“We had as good a second half as we have ever had,” said John Shuman of Shuman Produce in Reidsville, GA. “We’ve been truly blessed with outstanding quality and promotable volumes that will last all the way through Labor Day. This is a perfect opportunity for retailers to do some late summer promotions with Vidalias.”

Some retailers were scared off Vidalias when it appeared there would not be a large enough crop to cover ads. Vidalia growers want those retailers to know it is not too late to get back in the game.

“There is a very high quality Vidalia crop in storage,” said Richard Pazderski, who heads up the Vidalia operation for Utah Onions in Syracuse, UT. “There is very promotable volume and it will be marketed at unusually competitive prices for this time of year, compared to normal years. Basically, the best sweet onion in the world is waiting patiently to be offered to consumers at prices that would normally be unheard of for this time of year. It really should be the perfect opportunity for retailers to make up for lost sales during the early part of the Vidalia season.”

Vidalia growers were as surprised as anyone by the second half turnaround.

“I think the entire industry was surprised at the yields at the tail-end of the crop,” said Walt Dasher of G&R Farms in Glennville, GA. “A lot of volume really came on in the fields in the last week and pushed yields higher than we expected. Quality is still very good, price has come down due to the amount of product being put away in storage. Now we really need to get a market increase in order to help us offset the high cost that is involved with storing onions. Customers can continue to promote Vidalias because supplies are good and the quality is there to back that up.”

When supplies appeared to be short early in the deal, Vidalia growers “did exactly what they should have done at the time and with the information at hand — they sent up warning flares,” Pazderski said. “Heavy promotion at retail would have seemed to have been a reckless move and though it wasn’t necessarily discouraged, it certainly wasn’t encouraged at the level that it would normally have been.

“Everyone was happy to be able to fill the orders they were getting at the time and wanted to manage inventories in a responsible way that would give the 2013 program enough longevity for retailers to keep Vidalias on their shelves at least into July.”

But, “This season has turned out to be quite different than what was originally projected. Hindsight is always 20/20,” Pazderski continued. “It might appear that the Vidalia deal was mishandled by the growers during the first several weeks of shipping and that there may have been an effort to create a stronger-than-average market by leveraging a severe supply shortage. I can honestly say that this is not true in any way. There was a solid consensus that a possible disaster was imminent.”

With the turnaround, growers who once thought their storage units would be one-third to half filled at this point in the season instead find they are at capacity.

By the time growers realized they had a bumper crop on their hands, “it was too late for the retailers to react,” Pazderski said. Many had switched to other domestic programs and even though Vidalia growers have worked to get the word out about availability, “movement continues to be much slower than normal for this time of year” despite extremely competitive pricing.

Meanwhile, Pazderski said, “It’s tough to sit back and look at such a beautiful crop sitting in the controlled-atmosphere storages down here, knowing that product of this quality would be very welcomed by consumers in any market, but also knowing that we need heavier promotion to get it all in the pipeline and in front of them. I hope that retail promotion will increase significantly in the coming weeks to accomplish this. But, either way, what should have been a very solid year for both growers and retailers will likely end up average at best.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines