Cold, unstable weather through December and January has taken a toll on Georgia's valuable Vidalia onion crop. Experts say the crop will be late, possibly smaller than normal and in short supply.

“Because the weather was so rough in December, the onions didn't really grow until mid-January,“ says Reid Torrance, Tattnall County Extension Service coordinator with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“The crop is behind,” says Torrance. “We won't be in full swing of harvest until the first week of May. So, we're hoping we have good weather to help size up the bulbs. We're still optimistic that we'll have a good crop. But it's going to be short.”

According to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Vidalia onion growers planted 14,387 acres of this year's crop. That's down by a little more than 1,000 acres from last year.

“Yields off those acres usually average 200 hundredweight per acre,” notes Torrance. “Last year, it was 255 hundredweight per acre — a 25 percent increase over our long-term average, and the biggest crop we've ever made. We'll be off anywhere from one-third to half of that record yield this year.”

On the heels of last year's bumper crop of onions, the news isn't all bad for onion marketers. A short market usually equals higher prices. Fewer acres, coupled with at least a 15 to 20 percent loss in yields should make for a favorable Vidalia onion market.

“Traditionally, bacterial disease has been a terrible problem for us. It probably has been our worst enemy over the past four or five years. This year, though, I've seen the least amount ever of bacteria. Even late in the season, we're not seeing any.”

“My guess is that we'll be 30 percent off what we shipped last year, at best. And, it could be closer to 50 percent off. From here on out, it'll depend on weather,” says Torrance.

Vidalia onions require even temperatures and good soil moisture to grow. “We need good, stable temperatures. We've been riding this roller coaster of up and down temperatures. Onions don't grow when it's jacket weather.”

It's those temperature swings that delayed the crop. It takes even, warm temperatures to promote bulbing in onions. “If it gets too hot, the tops will fall over and the bulb stops growing.” says Torrance. “If that happens, we'll get a lot of medium onions and few jumbos. We need some help from Mother Nature with some rain to keep the tops stiff, too.”

While the short crop likely will bring higher prices for growers, it also means higher prices for shoppers. The good news for both is that Torrance also expects a high-quality crop.

“Traditionally, bacterial disease has been a terrible problem for us. It probably has been our worst enemy over the past four or five years. This year, though, I've seen the least amount ever of bacteria. Even late in the season, we're not seeing any.”

Vidalias are subject to two bacterial threats: warm-weather bacteria and cold-weather bacteria. Both have been nearly non-existent this year.