Despite adverse growing conditions this year, consumers can expect plenty of fresh quality Vidalia onions in grocery stores soon, says a University of Georgia expert.

An extreme Georgia winter threatened the Vidalia onion crop earlier this year. On several occasions, temperatures dropped well below freezing for extended periods of time. Though Vidalia onions are winter hardy, there was a question whether or not the sweet Georgia treats would make it through the winter.

Barring any more extreme temperature changes, the crop will be good, said George Boyhan, an Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“The crop has done remarkably well even with the freezes,” he says. “The onions have really grown a lot in the past three to four weeks. The harvest, supply and quality should be very good.”

Harvest could begin in early April, he says. Consumers can expect to see Vidalia onions in the produce section beginning about mid-April, with a hardy supply well into the year.

This year, growers had the option of planting seven new varieties, which were tested by CAES scientists and approved to carry the Vidalia onion label by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. To become a certified Vidalia, an onion has to be a yellow Granex onion that is grown in a 20-county area in southeastern Georgia. The Vidalia onion is known for its unusually mild, sweet flavor, which is attributed to the low- sulfur content in the soil, the mild winters and the use of irrigation in the region.

But late-season diseases still can pose a threat, he says.

“There has been some disease in spots, primarily Botrytis neck rot,” he says. “This disease can be devastating in onions, particularly in storage.”

As much as 60 percent of the crop was destroyed by disease last year. This shrank supplies, and prices remained relatively high last year, he says.

But Boyhan expects growers planted as many onions this year, about 14,000 acres, as last year. Growers report the number of onions sold to the Vidalia Onion Committee as they sell them. This then is translated into acreage through county Extension agents and the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service.

Vidalia onions are one of Georgia's most valuable cash crops, worth about $80 million a year.