Stine is synonymous with corn and soybeans, but we’re also taking part in something exciting in the onion industry, and we think it’s pretty “sweet.”
Southern Georgia is home to rich, well-drained soils that are low in sulfur. This environment contributes to the sweet flavor of Vidalia onions — Georgia’s state vegetable. According to Explore Georgia, more than 14,000 acres of Vidalias are grown in the region, and around five million 40-pound boxes are shipped each season. Vidalias are a milder onion that are only found in Georgia, not just because of the environment that supports the crop’s unique flavor, but because of the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986 that states only 20 counties in the U.S. (all in Georgia) are allowed to grow and market the crop. The legislation trademarked the name “Vidalia onions,” so those who mimic the product outside the region cannot market the crop after its namesake.
So, where does Stine fit into the equation with the more than 80-year-old Vidalia onion industry? Crop rotation.
It boils down to genetics and timing.
Scott Wagner, key accounts manager for Stine, has spent the last two years traveling to the Vidalia region, specifically to Toombs County, where growers have quickly recognized the advantages of Stine soybean genetics.
“Stine soybeans are gaining ground in the region because of the genetic material we have available for that environment,” says Wagner. “Growers typically rely on other cash crops, such as peanuts and corn, to rotate into the mix after an onion harvest because soybeans aren’t always as profitable. But with Stine’s advanced lines of conventional and Enlist E3® soybeans, Vidalia growers now have access to the industry’s leading material in maturities more conducive to their environment.”
Growers can easily rotate from Vidalias to soybeans and back again without missing a step, thanks to Stine’s shorter maturity products.
“It all boils down to timing,” says Wagner. “Planting season for Vidalias begins mid-November, the crop overwinters in the soil, and then harvest starts in April and is typically completed by mid-May. Growers can plant soybeans immediately after, churn the crop and get it out of the field before the next onion season begins.”
But soybeans haven’t always been a viable crop rotation option in the region.
“A few years back, you might find growers using 7.0 maturity soybeans, and they weren’t getting the time or growing degree days the crop needed to produce yield,” says Wagner. “Now, we’re pushing our 4.6 to 5.8 maturity products, and growers are getting more pods, not just vegetation. It’s becoming a cash crop option for them, and we’re seeing an average 60–65 bushel/acre in the region — a clear improvement from a few years ago.”
Other benefits of soybeans include the nitrogen credits they leave behind in the soil and clean fields after harvest.
“Soybeans not only inject more nutrients for the onions, they leave behind less biomass than other crops, making it easier to start planting right after soybean harvest,” said Wagner. “There’s also the advantage of herbicide residuals with the Enlist program. Unlike other herbicides, the onion crop is not impacted by the leftover residual, so it’s safe to apply with your soybean crop. Vidalia seed beds must be clean to plant the crop, so soybeans are beneficial in that aspect as well.”
Another consideration leading growers to rotate to soybeans — the diseases for both crops are different. Soybeans are a good transition crop for growers battling common onion diseases such as pink root or sour skin.
“The diseases soybeans fight are completely opposite of what onions fight,” said Wagner. “It’s not a true rotation if you can’t get away from a certain disease pressure.”
All hands on deck
Onion production is a tedious but rewarding business for growers in the region, and it’s their No. 1 priority. Soybeans are becoming more profitable for them, but there’s no replacement for their Vidalia business. And it keeps them busy.
“The Vidalia planting season technically starts in November, but as seedlings the crop spends roughly 45–60 days growing in a seed bed. This process starts in September,” says Wagner. “Each grower has their own seed bed. They typically pick a field or two and plant their own Vidalia nursery. Because they are bare root transplants, they must start their growing process in a nursery. After they’ve reached the proper stage for planting, workers add them to sacks as bundles to be planted again as a complete crop.”
Something unique to Vidalias is they are planted and harvested by people and not machines — an effort that requires all hands on deck.
“Workers transplant the onions from the nursery to the fields by hand,” says Wagner. “And at harvest, the workers come back to pick the onion and cut the greenery. There are machines that help the process, but at the end of the day, each onion is touched in the field. It’s a very labor-intensive process.”
A niche market
Although not the primary crop in the area, Stine soybeans have found a niche market in southern Georgia.
“Our soybeans are working well down there,” says Wagner. “Our conventional soybeans are performing, and our Enlist E3 lines are also shining. Outside our genetics, we hear growers say they’ve been waiting for a company like Stine — a family-owned business that isn’t just telling them what to do. We’re there to support them however they need us.”
Stine president Myron Stine recently spent time with growers in the region to discuss Stine’s position in the industry and how Stine can help increase profitability for their secondary crop market. We’ve hired an independent sales representative in the area who supports our growers in the region and is available to assist with any agronomic questions they may have, including product placement, row spacing and population considerations.
“We really admire these growers,” says Wagner. “They plant and harvest something almost every month; they don’t get any time off. It’s been a pleasure learning about their operations and the Vidalia onion industry. It’s truly a unique and beautiful crop. We’re just happy Stine can help with the process.”