While most Georgians are hustling to finish last-minute shoppingfor the holidays, Vidalia onion farmers are plantingthe last of their fields and checking them twice.”Right now, most everything looks good,” said Reid Torrance,Tattnall County Extension Service director. “The majorityof growers will be through planting before Christmas, which isa little ahead of schedule.”Except for some damaging, warmer-than-normal weather in November,the tiny onion plants are well on their way to a fruitful spring.They just have to get through winter first.New Year, Less Onions Because prices have been so low recently, Vidalia onion growersare planting less of the crop in hopes of improving market prices.So there won’t be as many onions on the market next year, Torrancesaid.Georgia growers usually plant about 15,000 acres of the crop.Tattnall County farmers grow about half of those. This year, Torrancesaid, he expects farmers to plant about 1,000 fewer acres thanlast year.”The growers would like to see a reduction in acres,”Torrance said. “These guys need a good year to put some moneyin their pockets. Farmers have barely broken even on prices overthe past few years.”In an average season, fresh-market prices usually start high,then drop as the harvest continues. Over the past few seasons,however, Georgia farmers have produced an abundance of onions.This oversupply has lowered the price farmers get, said GeorgeBoyhan, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agriculturaland Environmental Sciences. Barring any adverse weather, though,there should still be plenty of onions for shoppers next year.Extreme Weather Tough The onions don’t mind some hard winter weather. But high windsand extreme temperature swings can damage the crop.Onions take the hardest hit when temperatures drop into the lowteens after a spell of warm, sunny days. The onion is 90 percentwater. Low temperatures can cause the water in the tender onioncells to freeze and rupture.The Vidalia onion crop hasn’t minded the extended drought thathas gripped the state, either. In fact, the onions like it dry.”The drought doesn’t much affect the onion,” Boyhansaid. “Dry conditions keep disease pressure down.” Vidalia onions are planted under irrigation.Sweet Treat Available Now Shoppers don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy fresh Vidaliaonions, though. Small Vidalias, sold as salad onions, are in grocerystores now.The junior-sized onions are planted in early August. They arethen harvested until December, before they become mature. Theonions are good in stir fries and salads.”You can grow a lot of salad onions on a small number ofacres,” Torrance said. “It’s a nice niche market forsome growers.”Mature Vidalia onions are harvested in mid-spring, mostly in April.Controlled-atmosphere storage allows growers to extend the timethey can market the crop. But even the stored onions don’t lastfar past September, Boyhan said.