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Bland Farms Sweet Onions Appear in GA Ports Authority Anchor Age

Year-round Demand Spurs Growth

(From GPA Anchor Age, 1Q 2012) Georgia might be known as the Peach State, but the peach isn’t the only sweet produce that has endeared Georgia farmers to cooks around the country—and around the world. Each year, Georgia grows and ships some 100,000 tons of Vidalia onions to markets both foreign and domestic. It might come as some surprise, then, to learn that Georgia onion producers also import sweet onions from South America.“Georgia does raise a lot of onions, and it’s the Vidalia onion— a flat onion that is very, very sweet,” said Delbert Bland,owner of Glennville-based Bland Farms.“The only problem is you can only grow it one time a year. ”In Georgia, the sweet onions are grown during the winter and harvested in lateApril. Producers can then store the onions for around five months, making the market for Georgia-raised onions from April through September. But what about those folks who have a hankering for a sweet onion in October, or even later in the year? That’s where South American farm sites come in. Chip Hawkins, inside sales manager for GPA Trade Development, said Bland Farms imported 715 40-foot containers in fiscal year 2010. In 2011, that number was 745. The onion grower said the desire to meet a year-round demand led to his company establishing a farm near the coast of Peru. “Peru is divided by the Andes Mountains and the coastline on the west coast side is basically like desert. It’s a very sandy type dirt,” he said. “We grow in those areas,mostly in Ica, which is a community about four hours of south of Lima. ”While the ground is fertile, farming requires wells to be dug for irrigation. In the same region, other companies grow crops such as asparagus. For Bland Farms,the appeal is a similar soil type to Georgia,with an opposite growing season in theSouthern Hemisphere. The same seed planted in Vidalia is sent to Peru in January. “You plant them real close together in the seedbed, then you transplant them up in May,” Bland said. “When we’re harvesting here, we’re planting there. And when we’re planting here, we’re harvesting there. ”Besides extending the sale season, growing produce in both the northern and southern hemispheres has also helped to reduce the impact of a poor growing season in either region, Bland said. Bland first started importing onions from Peru about 15 years ago. Today,about 52 million to 56 million pounds are imported each year, with most weekly shipments transiting the Panama Canal in refrigerated containers and arriving at the Port of Savannah. Because of marketing restrictions, thePeru-raised produce cannot be sold as“Vidalia” onions, but are instead calledBland Farms sweet onions, or Peru sweet onions. Bland said growing the onions in SouthAmerica has actually supported Georgia and U.S. jobs. “It’s provided an opportunity for the people we employ during the Vidalia season, to do the harvesting and packing,to continue that employment all the way through the winter,” he said. “Directly and indirectly, more than 100 people are involved in the Peru onion deal for us. ”Hawkins said the incoming containers are placed on truck chassis, where they are chilled at power outlet stations. The turn-around from the time containers arrive to the time they’re shipped out is from one to three days, depending on USDA inspection schedules. Bland said he is pleased with the service of the Georgia Ports Authority. “The port authority has been excellent to us because they have been very cordial to work with and the service is excellent,”he said. “Service is a very, very important part of this, because you’re dealing with a commodity that doesn’t need to sit around very much. It needs to keep moving.” This article was written by and published in Georgia Ports Authority Anchor Age – 1Q 2012 and can be found in its entirety on their website.

Tags: GA Ports, GPA AnchorAge, Peru, Sweet Onions

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