Some Georgia farmers fume over new Vidalia onion shipping rules

Tue Nov 12, 2013 11:18am EST
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By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia's famed Vidalia onions are sweet and so are the sales, with the brand that retails nationwide generating $150 million annually.

But a new state rule that delays the onion's shipping date has hit a sour note with some farmers who deem the timing arbitrary for a crop that has the distinction of being grown in only 20 south Georgia counties.

One unhappy farmer, the country's largest Vidalia onion grower, is fighting back with a lawsuit.

"That absolutely will not fly," said Delbert Bland, a Tattnall County farmer who produces more than a third of the Vidalia onion crop. "You can't project when an onion is going to be mature."

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has pushed back next spring's shipping date by several weeks to late April, arguing that the quality and appearance of the onions has been sacrificed over the last several years by rushing them to market too soon.

The state owns the Vidalia onion trademark and has to protect the brand, Black said.

"Vidalias are a premium product," he said. "We have a responsibility to make sure consumers are getting what they're paying for."

Southeast Georgia farmers in search of a new cash crop began growing onions in the 1930s and discovered the low-sulfur soil and weather conditions in the region produced a mild, sweet onion, according to the Vidalia Onion Committee, an industry organization.   Continued...

Vidalia onions are pictured in this undated handout photo released to Reuters on November 8, 2013. REUTERS/Vidalia Onion Comittee/Handout via Reuters