“I guess we’ll have to get together pretty soon,” Herndon said. “At least 90% of the growers wanted this change. We’ve got some integrity in these onions and we need to protect that.”
Coral BeachDelbert Bland shows the rings in a Vidalia onion while discussing his lawsuit that challenged the Georgia agriculture commissioner's authority to change the state's rule on when the onions can be shipped.Grower Delbert Bland, owner of Bland Farms, Glennville, Ga., filed the lawsuit challenging the new rule. His company owns and has contracts for about a fourth of the 12,600 acres planted with the trademarked Vidalia onions, which are regulated by Georgia law as well as a federal marketing order.
“Mother Nature will decide when our Vidalia sweet onions are ready to ship, not an arbitrary date on the calendar,” Bland said after the ruling. “I’m glad that we’ll be able to ship our onions on the normal timetable and our customers can expect that.”
Bland, and several other growers, often shipped their Vidalia onions earlier than the official start date suggested by the advisory panel because the rules allow for that as long as a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector approves them.
The rule change sought by Black did include a provision for him to alter the start date based on crop maturity and other factors, but did not allow for early shipping by individual growers.
Growers and shippers who supported the change in the rule included Kevin Hendrix, vice president of Hendrix Produce and chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee; Brett McLain, McLain Farms; Walt and Robert Dasher, G & R Farms; John and Mark Shuman, Shuman Produce Inc.; and Brian Stanley, Stanley Farms; Barbara Braddy, Braddy Farms; Steve Roberson, Roberson Onion Co.; and Alan Sikes, owner of Sikes Farms.
Growers and shippers opposed to the new rule included brothers Timothy and Jerry Pittman, Pittman Family Farms, whose onions are marketed by Bland Farms, and Joey Johnson, sales manager for J&S Produce Inc.