Vidalia Onion Grower Overcomes Difficult Growing Season

Glennville, GA

While they might raise chicken and cattle, as well as grow watermelons and other row crops during the summer, B & H Farms is best known for their three hundred acres of Vidalia onions. Despite not growing up on a farm, it’s an industry co-owner, Ben Hilliard developed a passion for at an early age.

“My dad was a forester and my mom worked for the board of education and we actually lived in town until my senior year in high school, which, I’ve always had an interest in farming. I worked for a small tobacco farm growing up and then later became partners with that farmer’s son,” says Hilliard.

Recently, he, along with his business partner, Chase Brennan, were named the 2022 Grower of the Year by the Vidalia Onion Committee, thanks in large part to their commitment to new practices and technology.

We’re extremely fortunate and blessed to be able to even be in the area to grow a Vidalia onion. Not everyone in the state gets to enjoy the process of growing these Vidalia’s. We have what we call AgSense on our pivots, which you can operate from a cell phone, which is extremely convenient. You can watch during the middle of the night, or it tells you if you have an error or problem, and with the labor issues, if you can just maximize your efficiency with your work through technology it will equate to a lot of time with your family,” says Hilliard.

However, that technology isn’t much help during harvest as Vidalia onions are considered one of the most labor-intensive crops, which results in some pretty long hours over the next few weeks.

“It’s a pretty hectic time, but it’s pretty gratifying when you get finished,” says Hilliard. “There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of long hours, but when you’re finished, it makes it all worth it. There’s a huge amount of work. Everything is hand clipped. We haul them in by trucks and tractor trailers and then obviously, we go through our drying and packing process before it ever goes onto another truck and heads to the retailer for the customers.”

However, you won’t find any complaining, as this year’s crop appears to be in good shape despite some less-than-ideal weather during growing season.

“We’ve had some pretty volatile weather conditions. That early freeze around Christmas hurt us really bad from a population standpoint per acre, but all that considered, we’re very blessed to even have what we have to pack and harvest this year,” says Hilliard.

That gratitude extends to the consumers, who are the main reason Hilliard puts in all the time and effort to grow Georgia’s signature vegetable.

“The most gratifying part is to take a seed and get it to harvest and get it to a customer and then have positive feedback from that customer; hearing how much they enjoyed it and how much, they enjoyed grilling or fed their families,” says Hilliard.

By: Damon Jones