R.T. Stanley Jr. Inducted into Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame

(L-R) Vidalia Onion Committee Chairman Troy Bland
Executive Director Bob Stafford and R.T Stanley Jr.

R.T. Stanley Jr., a longtime member of Richter and Co.’s family of farms, is the latest inductee of the Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame.

More than 200 guests watched him receive the top honor in February during the Vidalia Onion Committee’s 2018 awards banquet that also celebrated the onion’s official trademark nearly 26 years ago.

The actual industry traces its roots to Toombs County, Georgia. In the 1930s, weather there wiped out the state’s regular onion crop, and a train car full of seedlings from Texas shipped to Georgia just in time. Those onions were sweet, though, and most farmers scratched their heads, worried that what they grew might not be fiery enough for local taste buds. Luckily, Piggly Wiggly customers fell in love, kindling a new romance with the onion grown only in 20 South Georgia counties. Appreciation for the Vidalia spread slowly across America, and today it is a No. 1 pick of chefs and home cooks around the world.

R.T.’s family lives in Toombs County, home of Vidalia — one of two top-producing onion counties in the Vidalia growing region. Junior began farming Vidalias with his father, Rodney Taylor Stanley Sr., in the 1980s, when the onion first became a household name. Many considered their willingness to abandon tobacco, a more “traditional” crop, for Vidalias a gamble at best. But rolling the dice forever changed the Stanleys’ farming operation and made them pioneers in the sweet onion market.

R.T. was among the core group of Vidalia farmers who fought to attain legal status for the onion, clearly defining its growing region and getting the name Vidalia trademarked. He also fought for the Vidalia to become Georgia’s official state vegetable. Today, Vidalias aren’t just another Southern something, like grits and sweet tea. They are sold in 50 states and parts of Canada.

R.T. is retired from the Vidalia, Ga.-based Stanley Farms, where he served as president. His farm life began in 1964 as a sharecropper, and when R.T. acquired land of his own in 1975, he planted 5 acres of Vidalias. In 2016 Stanley Farms merged with Coggins Farm and Produce to form Generation Farms, the largest grower, processor, packer, and shipper of sweet onions on the East Coast.

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Kemp McLeod Named S.C. Farmer of the Year

Kemp McLeod has been named South Carolina Farmer of the Year. He now joins nine finalists throughout the state, all hoping for the distinguished Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

Should that happen, McLeod would be one of only three South Carolina winners in the 28 years the award has been presented. For winning at the state level McLeod, a longtime peach farmer from McBee, will receive cash, prizes and an expenses-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga., where the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award will be given on Oct. 17.

Tony Melton, a Clemson Extension horticulture agent in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, nominated Kemp for the award sponsored by Swisher Sweets and the Sunbelt Expo. “He is the best farmer I know,” said Melton, who worked for McLeod Farms in his youth and used money he earned there to attend Clemson University.

Years later, The McLeods honored Melton by funding a Clemson scholarship in his name.

Previous state honors given to McLeod include the John W. Parris Agriculture Leadership Award, the Order of the Palmetto in recognition as a Century Farm for operating more than 100 years, and an honorary state future Farmers of America degree.

Although peaches are their No. 1 crop, McLeod Farms — voted South Carolina Farm of the Year in 2011 — doesn’t stop there. They have a sizeable business in corn, wheat, rye and soybeans and a retail store that is a favorite stop for folks headed to and from South Carolina’s beaches. They also grow strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, red potatoes, cabbage, sweet corn, squash, onions, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, peas, pumpkins, turnips, egg plants and other produce that’s sold at their roadside markets.

Read more about the 2017 S.C. Farmer of the Year Award

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South Carolina on Track for Bumper Peach Crop


Editor’s Note: Updated April 6, 2016

Early field reports from peach farmers across South Carolina are optimistic, but growers are still saying prayers and crossing fingers until all chances of frost have passed.

Although the outlook now is a sharp contrast from this time two years ago, it’s too soon not to worry. With peaches, a lot of things can go wrong, and growers are taking the hurdles as they come.

After delays from torrential fall rains, growers immediately began planting new trees, installing irrigation lines and pruning established orchards. But by the end of 2015 they were bracing for the possibility of a no-so-stellar crop, mainly because — long story short — deciduous trees, including peach trees, require a certain amount of “chill hours” to produce flowers and bear fruit. By the end of December, unseasonably warm temperatures had kept the number of chill hours to about 250, about half the chill time normally tallied by then. But colder weather in February helped.

Peach trees drop their leaves in the fall and go into a developmental state known as dormancy. As winter progresses, the trees enter another state called “rest.” Think of it as a bear in hibernation. While in their rest stage, trees cannot grow. Chilling temperatures are necessary for the trees to overcome the period of rest. Budbreak and normal growth occur after a peach tree has stopped hibernating. Peach trees in South Carolina require 800 to 1,000 chill hours, depending on the variety.

Thankfully, winter weather finally arrived in February and with it came enough consecutive days below 45 degrees for the trees to chill.

“Winter definitely came later than expected but once it got here, it came in with a bang,” said Kevin Rogers of Richter Produce. “Since then, we’ve had consistent highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s. We are well beyond the minimum chill hours necessary and look forward to a great peach season.”

Maybe even the best yet, said Andy Rollins, a Clemson University extension agent in the Upstate.

So far, the possibility of a plentiful crop is good but not guaranteed. And even if farmers expect a break from the recent stretch of mediocre years, they’re cautious to avoid jinxing the opportunity. April is crucial. Farmers hope this month won’t bring a late freeze, heavy frost or other conditions that can devastate delicate peach blooms. Unfortunately, that’s happened the last three years.

Despite the late frost last year, however, farmers across South Carolina still produced about 70,000 tons of peaches, second in the nation to California. Georgia finished third.

If all goes as well this year, Chappell Farms, home of “Pat’s Pride” peaches in Barnwell County will begin picking its early varieties by May 10. They are the first of Richter’s three South Carolina peach farms to begin production. McLeod Farms in McBee and Cotton Hope Farms in Monetta should begin peach production around May 15.