The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas were on full display at last month’s annual awards banquet honoring the Vidalia Onion Committee’s (VOC) most recent crop of winners.
Approximately 275 people were greeted with larger-than-life displays of playing cards, poker chips and dice upon arriving at the Hawks Point Golf Club in Vidalia, Ga. With farmers always gambling on crops, the committee decided to go all in, betting the farm that the theme “Viva Las Vidalias” would be a hit with the crowd.
Both the Grower of the Year and Hall of Fame inductees were announced at the February 16 event.
The grower of the year award went to Ray Farms in Glennville, Ga.: Ray Farms is a real family farm that has always strived to pack a high-quality product. Avon and Annette Ray started farming in Tattnall County in the early 1950s. After Avon and Annette retired, their sons Danny and Gary took over farming operations with their wives in the late 1970s. The farm produces cotton, corn, peanuts, watermelons, peas and beans; however, its main crop is Vidalia onions. During the summer months, the entire family works in the packing house during the Vidalia onion harvest season.
Whitney, the daughter of Danny and Patsy, has been with the operation for four years. Her job duties include overseeing sales and transportation. Gary and Rhonda have two children who look forward to the time they will be old enough to join the operation. Danny also served on the VOC for several years as the committee treasurer.
This year, the VOC selected Buck Shuman and Gerald Dasher to induct into the Hall of Fame: From his early work of blending fertilizers, to becoming an onion grower and working with seed breeders to develop improved varieties, Shuman has devoted nearly four decades to serving the Vidalia onion industry and helping the Vidalia sweet onion maintain its superior brand image.
As the owner of Shuman Fertilizer, Inc., Shuman began blending fertilizers for his customers in the 1970s. He believed a sweeter onion could be achieved by customizing what was needed in the field instead of simply applying the standard blends.
“Blending fertilizers, I’m convinced, is the way to come up with a sweet, mild onion,” said Shuman.
His method took a variety of factors into consideration to allow the crop to flourish and maintain its trademark sweet, mild flavor. Working closely with former Tattnall county extension agents Max Smith and Reed Torrance, Shuman was one of the first in the industry to blend his own fertilizers to develop a sweeter onion.
Dasher of G&R Farms in Glennville, Ga., was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame: Dasher is remembered as one of the pioneering forces in the marketing, growing and distribution of the Vidalia onion. He was one of the first to grow this sweet onion as well as the first to sell them to major grocery chains. In the early 1970s, Dasher began traveling all over the United States and internationally to promote and market the sweet onion and was one of the first to use aggressive marketing tactics. His growing operation had humble beginnings, with just 10 acres of onions and later blossomed into a booming industry. Dasher never hesitated to reach out and help other farmers. He marketed other growers’ onions for several years.
G&R Farms is one of the oldest in the business. Dasher, along with his brother Robert, began working together in the 1960s and formed their partnership, G&R Farms in the 1970s. They were the first growers to package the onions in the boxes that are still widely used today.
Over the years, Dasher served as Chairman of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and was a member of the Governor’s International Board of Industry and Trade and the National Onion Association.