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Bland family launched now-famous sweet onion industries in Georgia and Peru

Delbert Bland, owner of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA, gets much credit as the marketer who made Vidalia onions famous. What most people don’t know is that his father, the late Raymond Bland, actually helped launch the Peruvian sweet onion industry.

“What’s so cool about it is the Peruvian onion deal was really started by my father,” Bland said. “We had a visitor from Peru named Carlos who went to the University of California-Davis, graduated with a degree in business and was interested in produce and ended up on our farm on the way home. My father was the type of guy who didn’t like to sit around in an office. If you wanted to talk to him, you had to ride around the farm in the truck with him, so Carlos rode around in the truck with him learning the business. Daddy gave him a can of seed that he brought home in his luggage 18 years ago and that’s how it started. Those guys still actually grow onions for us.”

Now, Bland Farms leases land and handles most of its own growing, packing and shipping in Peru.

Bland-Peru-1Troy, Delbert and Landis Bland in one of their Vidalia onion fields near Glennville, GA. Bland is also a major importer of Peruvian sweets and other sweet onions from multiple growing locations. (Photo courtesy of Bland Farms)“In the past we’ve done a lot of hiring farmers to grow for us here and we’re growing a lot more, doing a lot more production ourselves now. It’s a pretty big operation actually,” Bland said by phone while in Peru for a mid-August visit. “The Peru deal is very interesting because it’s an excellent place to grow onions. It’s a very dry climate, there’s no humidity and no rain and you put irrigation to the onions and they thrive in this type of weather. The quality is excellent down here and this year’s crop looks great.”

A terrific second half to the Vidalia onion season means Bland will have that product as late as mid-September, when the Peruvian deal will come on in earnest. The company will ship fresh Peruvian sweets into January and finish its storage crop from that country just as the Vidalia deal comes on again next spring.

“The two crops complement each other tremendously: when Vidalia goes out, Peru comes in, and when Peru goes out, Vidalia is ready to come in. We are usually planting and harvesting somewhere between Georgia and Peru all the time. We’ll be planting in Peru all the way up until when we start planting in Vidalia again,” Bland said.

That is possible because of the diversity of the Peruvian climate and its variety of latitude from north to south.

“When people think about Peru they think about the jungle and the Amazon. But Peru’s divided by the Andes mountains and we grow on the coastline,” Bland explained. “You have different climates, different areas that we’re continuously planting in; that’s the way we start shipping in July and ship fresh onions all the way through January out of Peru.”