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George E. Boyhan and Reid L. Torrance

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George E. Boyhan, Reid L. Torrance and C. Randy Hill

This is a compilation of several studies that were performed to address specific grower concerns or questions about onion fertilization, to assess onion fertility, to make adjustments in soil test recommendations, and to test specific fertilizers for clients covering the 1999–2000 to 2004–2005 seasons. The synthesis of these studies was to evaluate levels of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) fertilizers and their effect on yield, graded yield, and leaf tissue nutrient status in short-day onions over 6 years. In addition, various fertilizers were evaluated for their effect on these parameters. There was a significant increasing quadratic effect on yield from increasing N fertilizer from 0 to 336 kg·ha−1 with an R2 of 0.926. Maximum calculated yield was at 263 kg·ha−1 N fertilizer; however, the yield at this rate did not differ, based on a Fisher's least significant difference (P ≤ 0.05), from our current recommendations of 140 to 168 kg·ha−1 N. Jumbo (7.6 cm or greater) yield performed in a similar fashion. Phosphorus fertilizer rates from 0 to 147 kg·ha−1 had no effect on total yield, but did affect jumbo yields, which decreased linearly with an R2 of 0.322. Evaluations of P fertilizer in the 2001–2002 and 2002–2003 seasons only, when the exact same P fertilizer rates were used, showed a decreasing quadratic effect for jumbo yields with the lowest jumbo yields at 83 kg·ha−1 P fertilizer and jumbo yields increasing with 115 and 147 kg·ha−1 P fertilizer rates. Potassium fertilizer rates from 0 to 177 kg·ha−1 had a quadratic affect on total yield, with the highest yield of 52,361 kg·ha−1 with 84 kg·ha−1 K fertilizer rate. As would be expected, N and P fertilizer rates affected leaf tissue N and P levels, respectively. In addition, N fertilizer rates affected leaf tissue calcium (Ca) and sulfur levels. Potassium fertilizer rates had a significant linear effect on leaf tissue K 3 of 6 years. In addition, K fertilizer rates had a significant effect on leaf tissue P levels. Several fertilizers, including Ca(NO3)2 and NH4NO3, along with complete fertilizers and liquid fertilizers, were used as part of a complete fertilizer program and showed no differences for total yield or jumbo yield 4 of 5 years of evaluation when applied to supply the same amount of N fertilizer. Based on the results of this study, soil test P and K recommendations for onions in Georgia have been cut 25% to 50% across the range of soil test levels.

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George E. Boyhan, Reid L. Torrance, Jeff Cook, Cliff Riner and C. Randell Hill

Onions (Allium cepa) produced in southeastern Georgia's Vidalia-growing region are primarily grown from on-farm produced bareroot transplants, which are usually sown at the end of September. These transplants are pulled midwinter (November to January) and reset to their final spacing. This study was to evaluate sowing date, transplanting date, and variety effect on yield and quality of onions. Beginning in the first week of November, onions can be transplanted until the end of December with reasonable yield and quality. For example, in the 2003–04 season, total yield of onions transplanted on 22 Dec. 2003 did not differ from any onions transplanted on earlier dates in November or December. In the 2004–05 season, onions transplanted on 20 Dec. 2004, had lower total yield than onions transplanted in November, but were not different from onions transplanted on 4 Jan. 2005. The propensity of some varieties to form double bulbs can be reduced with later sowing and transplanting dates. Sowing the first week of October rather than the fourth week of September and transplanting in December rather than November can reduce double bulbs in some varieties.

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George E. Boyhan, Reid L. Torrance, Jeff Cook, Cliff Riner and C. Randell Hill

Onions (Allium cepa) produced in southeastern Georgia's Vidalia-growing region are primarily grown from on-farm–produced bareroot transplants, which are usually sown the end of September. These transplants are pulled midwinter (November–January) and are reset to their final spacing. This study was to evaluate transplant size and spacing effects on yield and quality of onions. Large transplants (260–280 g per 20 plants) generally produced the highest yield. Medium transplant size in the range of 130 to 150 g per 20 plants produced satisfactory yield while maintaining low numbers of seedstems (flowering) and doubled bulbs, which are undesirable characteristics. Smaller transplant size (40–60 g per 20 plants) have reduced yields and lower numbers of seedstems and double bulbs. Increasing plant population from 31,680 to 110,880 plants/acre can increase yield. In addition, plant populations of 110,880 plants/acre can increase yields compared with 63,360 plants/acre (industry standard), but only when environmental conditions favor low seedstem numbers. Seedstems can be high because of specific varieties, high plant population, or more importantly, in years with environmental conditions that are conducive to their formation. ‘Sweet Vidalia’ was the only variety that had consistently reduced quality and high numbers of seedstems. ‘Sweet Vidalia’ has a propensity for high seedstem numbers, which may have influenced results with this variety. A complete fertilization program that included 133 or 183 lb/acre nitrogen did not affect onion yield, regardless of variety or population density.

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George E. Boyhan, Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez, Chris Hopkins, Reid L. Torrance and C. Randy Hill

Onions (Allium cepa) in southeastern Georgia are almost exclusively transplanted, with the associated high costs and labor requirements. This study was undertaken to evaluate direct-seeded onions as an alternative production method. This study evaluates variety, sowing date, and fertility on direct seeding short-day onions in southeastern Georgia. Sowing dates, early or mid-October (5 and 15 Oct. 2001 and 7 and 21 Oct. 2002), did not affect total, jumbo (≥3 inches diameter), or medium (≥2 inches and <3 inches diameter) yields. Late October sowing (29 Oct. 2001) did not produce sufficient stand or yield to warrant harvesting. Variety also had no affect on yield of direct-seeded onions. Seedstems (flowering), an undesirable characteristic, was significantly greater with the early October sowing date across all varieties compared with the mid- or late- October sowing dates. Neither variety nor sowing date significantly affected plant stand or plant spacing. Fertilization treatments of 150 or 195 lb/acre nitrogen (N) with various application timings and fertilizer sources did not affect total or medium yields. Jumbo yield was affected in only 1 year with calcium nitrate as the primary N source at 195 lb/acre total N having the highest yield, but did not differ from some treatments at 150 lb/acre N. In addition, fertilization treatments did not affect seedstems, plant stand, or plant spacing. Based on this study, we are recommending that growers should direct seed onions in southeastern Georgia in mid-October, plus or minus 1 week depending on field accessibility. In addition, current fertilizer recommendations for transplanted dry bulb onions should be followed, which includes 150 lb/acre N. This eliminates all of the cost and resources required for transplant production.

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George E. Boyhan, Ray J. Hicks, Reid L. Torrance, Cliff M. Riner and C. Randell Hill

In a 3-year study of poultry litter applications on short-day onion (Allium cepa) production, where rates ranged from 0 to 10 tons/acre, there was an increasing linear effect on total onion yield. Jumbo (≥3 inches diameter) onion yield did not differ with increasing poultry application rates, while medium (≥2 and <3 inches diameter) yields decreased with increasing applications of poultry litter. In addition, organic-compliant fertilizers, 4N–0.9P–2.5K at 150 to 250 lb/acre nitrogen (N), as well as 13N–0P–0K at 150 lb/acre N and in combination with 9N–0P–7.5K totaling 150 lb/acre N were evaluated. Comparison of these commercial organic-compliant fertilizers indicated that there were no differences in total or jumbo yields, while medium yields generally decreased with increased N fertilizer rate.

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George E. Boyhan, Albert C. Purvis, William C. Hurst, Reid L. Torrance and J. Thad Paulk

This study was undertaken to evaluate the effect of harvest date on yield and storage of short-day onions in controlled-atmosphere (CA) storage conditions. In general, harvest yields increased with later harvest dates. Yields of jumbo (>7.6 cm) onions primarily showed a quadratic or cubic response to harvest date, first increasing and then showing diminished or reduced marginal yields. Medium (>5.1 to ≤7.6 cm) onions generally showed diminished yield with later harvests as jumbos increased. Neither days from transplanting to harvest nor calculated degree days were reliable at predicting harvest date for a particular cultivar. Cultivars (early, midseason, and late maturing) performed consistently within their harvest class compared to other cultivars for a specific year, but could not be used to accurately predict a specific number of days to harvest over all years. Only three of the eight statistical assessments of percent marketable onions after CA storage were significant with two showing a linear increase with later harvest date and one showing a cubic trend, first increasing, then decreasing, and finally increasing again based on harvest date.

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George E. Boyhan, Reid L. Torrance, Ronald H. Blackley Jr., M. Jefferson Cook and C. Randell Hill

Fertilizer rates of N, P, K were evaluated over 4 years (2000–03) as were different sources of experimental and commercial fertilizers. The highest total yields and yields of jumbos (≥7.6 cm) occurred with nitrogen rates of 140–168 kg·ha–1. Neither phosphorus nor potassium rates had an affect on total yield. Phosphorus rates of 0-147 kg·ha–1 and potassium rates of 0–177 kg·ha–1 were evaluated. Increasing nitrogen fertilizer resulted in increasing leaf tissue nitrogen, but did not affect P, K, Ca, or S. Increasing phosphorus fertilizer increased leaf tissue phosphorus only slightly (p = 0.060) with no affect on other leaf nutrient levels. Increasing potassium fertilizer did affect leaf tissue potassium 2 out of 4 years with none of the other leaf nutrient levels affected. Several fertilizers were also evaluated including an experimental fortified peat (10%N), calcium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, diammonium phosphate, 5–10–15 (56 kg·ha–1 N), 18-6-8 liquid, 14–0–12 8%S liquid, 19–8–19 slow-release at rates of 140 and 168 kg·ha–1 nitrogen. All were used to supply 168 kg·ha–1 nitrogen unless noted otherwise. P and K were supplied according to soil test recommendations unless they were part of the fertilizer formulation. There were no differences between the different fertilizer sources for total yield and differences in jumbo yields only occurred one year out of three years of testing and for medium (≥5.1 and <7.6 cm) yields there were differences two years out of three years of testing.

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George E. Boyhan, Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez, Reid L. Torrance, Ronald H. Blackley Jr. and C. Randell Hill

The majority of Vidalia onions are produced as a transplanted crop. Seeding in high density plantings in September is followed 8 to 10 weeks later by transplanting to final spacing. This practice is labor intensive and expensive. Direct seeding would save on labor, cost, and time. Traditionally, transplanting has been done because of better winter survival, more uniform stands, and better irrigation management during seedling emergence. Beginning 5 years ago, we began evaluating direct seeding onions. Initially, seedstems (bolting) and lack of uniform stand establishment were the main problems. Sowing in September resulted in almost 100% seedstems and using a belt planter with raw seed resulted in poor singulation for uniform stand establishment. Mid-October ultimately proved to be the best time for sowing Vidalia onion seed. Earlier sowing resulted in more seedstems and later planting did not give the plants sufficient time to grow resulting in later stand loss during cold winter temperatures. Using polymer coated seed and a precision vacuum planter resulted in uniform, even stand establishment. Fertilizer requirements are almost half with direct seeded onions compared to transplanted onions with a reduction in the need for fungicides and herbicides. We have established direct seeded onions both with drip irrigation and overhead irrigation. There was concern that center-pivot irrigation would not be able to sufficiently irrigate fields during seedling establishment with the frequent hot fall days we experience. Since this work was initiated several growers have successfully produced direct seeded onions under center-pivot systems. Direct seeding Vidalia onions requires attention to detail because there is only one opportunity to get it right. Timing is also critical particularly with planting date and herbicide application.

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George E. Boyhan, Reid L. Torrance, David E. Curry, Pamela M. Lewis, Donna O. Linton and C. Randy Hill

Preplant levels of 5N-4.4P-12.4K (-5S or -9S) and sidedress applications of CaNO3 were evaluated in onion (Allium cepa L.). In addition, high phosphorus fertilizers 18N-20.1P-0K (diammonium phosphate) and liquid 10N-14.8P-0K were evaluated on sites with and without high residual phosphorus levels as well as their interaction with onion cultivars. Sidedress applications of CaNO3 had a significant effect on plant height and an interaction with preplant 5N-4.4P-12.4K fertilizer. There was a linear increase in plant height with increasing applications of 5N-4.4P-12.4K from 0 to 1569 kg·ha-1 with the CaNO3 applications. Neither 5N-4.4P-12.4K nor CaNO3 applications affected stand count. 5N-4.4P-12.4K fertilizer had significant linear effects on tissue potassium and sulfur. Tissue nitrogen and calcium increased with CaNO3 applications while phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur decreased. CaNO3 also had a positive effect on suitability for transplanting. There was an interaction effect between 5N-4.4P-12.4K and CaNO3 for tissue phosphorus levels. There was a linear decrease in tissue phosphorus levels with increasing amounts of 5N-4.4P-12.4K fertilizer with the sidedress CaNO3 treatments. High phosphorus fertilizers applied directly after seeding had no effect on plant stand or plant height either on soils with or without high residual phosphorus in 1998. In 1999, 10N-14.8P-0K fertilizer had a significant effect on plant height while 18N-20.1P-0K did not. Based on this study, we conclude that additional applications of high phosphorus fertilizers applied post seeding are not required due to the relatively warm conditions found in southeast Georgia in September. There were differences between cultivars, but cultivar× high phosphorus fertilizer interactions were nonsignificant.