Vidalia Onion Rule Postponing Shipment to Markets

By: Brian Powell - April 16, 2014

The state of Georgia is currently experiencing one of its more highly contested court cases in quite some time. While the state has hosted important cases which affected the state of tribal sovereignty in the United States and the validity of capital punishment, this particular case may have the most widespread impact of any Georgia court case yet. The subject of contention, you ask? Onions. Vidalia Onions.

Georgia’s largest Vidalia onion farmer, Delbert Bland, who grows 3,000 acres of Vidalia onions, has brought a suit against the state of Georgia’s agriculture commissioner due to unnecessary and detrimental legislation against the packaging and sales of the onions.

Over the past 18 months, Georgia agricultural commissioner Gary Black has worked with Vidalia onion farmers in Georgia to decide when the onions should be allowed to be packed and shipped to market. The reason from the legislation results from a recent plague of farmers shipping the onions too soon, resulting in negative feedback from many customers.

“When somebody purchases our onions in a store, it’s got to be the quality we’re known for. We’ve got a good thing and we don’t want to mess it up,” stated Walt Dasher, a fellow Vidalia onion farmer.

The date Black and other farmers chose for the first allowable day on which to pack and ship the onions was the Monday of the last full week of April, which happens to be April 21 this year.

Bland, the world’s largest Vidalia onion farmer, feels this rule is too limiting, however. “I’m shipping the onions because they’re mature and they’re excellent quality and they’re ready to be shipped. We don’t feel like it’s fair that the government dictates what day we can ship the onions,” stated Bland.

Last month, Bland took Black to court to overturn the ruling as to when the onions can go to market. Judge Jay Stewart ruled that Commissioner Black had overstepped his legal authority in his attempt to protect the onions from a bad reputation. Unfortunately for Bland, however, Black decided to appeal the decision, keeping the rule effective until the appeal process is over.

If Bland continues with his plan to ship the onions before the April 21 deadline, he could face a $5,000 fine for every box he has packed to ship and potentially lose his license to market his onions as Vidalia onions. With Bland traditionally sending 150,000 boxes out to market in the first week of the season, such a fine could bankrupt the world’s largest Vidalia onion supplier.

“If you went through a lifetime to develop a product that people would want, who would lose the most if you shipped it immature? Onions are the type of commodity that, when they’re mature and ready, you’ve got to harvest them. If you leave them in the field, they’re going go bad,” Bland explained.

Despite Bland’s opposition to the decision, agricultural commissioner Black believes the ruling will be upheld: “We believe this is going to work. There may be some nuances that could be altered in the rule in the future, but our commitment to the growers was to help them solve this issue. We have a major responsibility to ensure the consumer can trust in that trademark.”

Vidalia onions were first planted in Georgia in the 1930s during the Great Depression. They quickly rose to prominence due to their intensely sweet flavor and low “bite”, perhaps due to the low amounts of sulfur in the soil in which they were grown. Vidalia onions were given a state legal status by Georgia in 1986. The Vidalia Onion Act of 1986 not only gave the state of Georgia a trademark to the Vidalia onion brand, but also limited the growth and production of the onions to a 20-county area in Georgia. The Vidalia onion would become the state vegetable of Georgia in 1990.

As it currently stands, the Vidalia onion market brings in $150 million of revenue to the state of Georgia each year. This fact, coupled with the onion’s rich and vital history to the state of Georgia, makes the protection of such a product integral to many farmers and consumers in Georgia.

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About the Author

Brian PowellBrian Powell is a contract writer for WebProNews. In his day job, he is a teacher and tutor for The Princeton Review. He also serves as an assistant coach to Transylvania University's Speech and Debate team.

View all posts by Brian Powell
  • bernorgl@yahoo.com

    How ridiculous to think you can legislate nature, When a crop is ripe it has to be harvested. A week one way or another can ruin a grower.

    • R Sawyer

      That is our Government – they know better than anyone anywhere!

  • Takpro

    This Stinks!

  • revlis20

    No problem..just buy Walla Walla sweets!

  • greyghost05

    They are the best Onions you can buy and can’t be duplicated outside Georgia. Tried once and the results were plain yellow onions.

    • Scarlett Love

      yes sir! the best!

    • TruthorConsequences

      I’ve done the same. It is the soil and weather conditions combined in south Georgia.

  • goofy

    Pretty soon they will be telling us when to go to the bathroom. This gov. stinks and more.

    • socialismisevil

      they already tell you how much you can flush

  • socialismisevil

    lefty lefty lefty

    yeah, like the business wants to purposefully sell bad goods

    lefty lefty lefty destroys

    probably a shakedown or some union garbage

    • sillydog

      too bad his is a righty, righty, righty

    • ChaseML

      You realize Bland is a Republican, right?

  • TruthorConsequences

    The Bland onions are great. I used them extensively over the years and I want some now. How can the government and legislation decide when an onion (or any crop for that matter) is mature and ready to ship? Climate, temperature, severity and length of winter, and other conditions can affect the maturing time of fruits and vegetables.

    I have used Texas Sweets, Walla Walla Sweets, but the Vidalia has my heart and my dishes. Vidalia onions are not only sweet, but not too sweet, they saute nicely, do not fall apart when used in various dishes, can be the main ingredient or a supporting aromatic flavor in the Cajun trinity. My best to the Bland family in winning against the bureaucracy in Georgia. It is a daunting task to take on the state but my best to them to win!

  • Vin Smith

    …Black is a typical apparatchik who doesn’t know business. Bland knows his product. Mr. Black, you have sullied your reputation coast-to-coast. Shame sir!

  • Fantasy Maker

    More gubmint oversight and stupidity

  • laura

    Why not just have the inspection certify that the onions ARE ripe – then you can ship when you need to, ie, when the onions are READY?! How stupid – I hope it warms early next year and the rest of the farmers start crying that they need to ship… in the meantime, their ripe onions ROT waiting for some arbitrary date based on what they said this year!

  • Larry

    The grower knows when his product is ready!I would like to buy Vidalia onions 24=7=365……..We have too much GOVERMENT already!!

  • Ronnie M.

    This is the best publicity Bland Farms could ask for. Not only are they 100% correct in stating that they know when their crop is ready to be harvested, in the next few weeks the truth about the commissioner is going to come out. Campaign contributions are public record…. :-) Mr. Black, What a shame to waste Mr. Bland’s time and money because another group of farmers made some nice donations to your campaign. Enjoy retirement after this term…