Labor Still Costly Expense for Vidalia Onion Producers

Jim Rogers Vidalia Onions

By Clint Thompson

The latest Vidalia onion budget prepared by University of Georgia Extension specialists estimates farmers invest more than $7,000 in input costs. That puts the break-even price at $15 per box for producers. Fortunately, market prices have been strong in recent years.

Vidalia onion expenses

Chris Tyson, University of Georgia Extension area onion agent at the Vidalia Onion & Vegetable Research Center in Lyons, Georgia, hopes the high prices can continue with harvest season a couple of months away.

“Everybody’s seen rising costs from inflation, sourcing issues and shortages over the last couple of years since COVID. Luckily, we’ve had pretty good market prices on onions the last few years,” Tyson said. “Consumer demand has been up in recent years for onions.

“We’re dealing with (the high input costs). We don’t have any choice but to deal with it. It’s not always an easy pill to swallow. From my perspective, I just want to help the growers make the best quality crop and the best yields that they can. That’s where we can come into play to help. Some of those other things are out of our control.”

The costliest expense starts with labor. It amounts for more than half of growers’ input expenses, close to $4,000.

“Labor is our biggest expense,” Tyson said. “Vidalia onions are such a labor intensive crop, from pulling plants on seedbeds to transplanting them in the fields to harvesting them at harvest time; and then all of the hand labor that goes into grading the onions and running them through a packing shed. That’s a huge cost.”

Other high input expenses include plants, fungicides, fertilizer and crop insurance.