What is in this article?:
- Vidalia onion growers celebrate success, look to future
- Grower of the year
- Strategic marketer
Georgia’s Vidalia onion growers gathered recently to celebrate the successes of 2010 and to honor the grower of the year and a hall of fame entry.
Grower of the year
Awarded Grower of the Year was Delbert Bland of Bland Farms, LLC, Glennville, Ga. "If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes," is the motto Bland embraced in 1982 when he and his late father Raymond D. Bland co-founded Bland Farms in Glennville. Bland says that philosophy continues to guide the daily operations of Bland Farms today, and the scenery at Bland Farm changes frequently.
The father-son duo began growing Vidalia onions on five acres in 1982. Twenty-eight years later, Bland Farms plants over 1,700 acres of the sweet delicacy and markets an additional 2,000 acres for Vidalia growers annually.
In 2008, Bland Farms opened Bland Distribution Services (BDS) in Donna, Texas, a cross-docking and packing facility on the border of Mexico.
During the 2009 year, Bland Farms continued its historical pattern of growth and expansion with the purchase of Zappala Farms, the Empire Sweets Brand, and the construction of Bellville Agri-Solutions, an agricultural fertilizer, chemical, and services facility located in Bellville, Ga. With 92 employees, Bland Farms is the largest grower, packer, and shipper of Vidalia onions and has the largest controlled-environment storage capacity in the sweet onion industry.
Domestic and international production operations reach far beyond Georgia into Utah, Pennsylvania, New York, Idaho, California, Texas, Mexico, Ecuador, Oregon, and Peru, with Bland Farms shipping sweet onions to retailers 52 weeks of the year.
In 2008, the Georgia Senate honored Bland with a resolution in recognition of commitment of time, talents, and energy towards the betterment of his community and state.
Most recently, Bland Farms was named one of the fastest growing privately held companies in America by Inc. Magazine in 2009. Each week Bland Farms supplies 4,000 pounds of sweet onions to America's Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia Food Bank whose mission is to feed hungry people and strengthen communities in the food bank's 21-county service area.
Bland Farms also has a three-year sponsorship agreement with St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and this year, two Raymond D. Bland Agricultural Scholarships will be awarded to high school seniors in the Glennville, Ga. area who plan to pursue post-secondary studies in agriculture or agriculture-related fields.
Most recently, Bland Farms has joined The Breast Cancer Research Foundation in the fight against breast cancer. And, 2011 marks the first year of Bland Farms' corporate sponsorship of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Bland cites his belief in the Lord as sustaining him through the most difficult times. He is joined in the business by his wife Sandra, and children Landis, Troy and Courtney.
The 2010 Hall of Fame award went to Delwin Dowdy of Dowdy Farms, Reidsville, Ga. Presenting the award was Reid Torrance, Tattnall County Extension Service and Area Onion Manager, who said, "This award goes to someone who was a very dear friend of mine. He taught me a great deal about onion production and the onion business. And he taught many of you as well."
Delwin Dowdy is remembered as always being willing to share his knowledge with other growers. He assisted many of them when they first started growing onions going back as much as 30 years ago. Many sought his input regularly, wanting to know his opinion of the season's crop, managing resources, packing quality product and developing infrastructure.