“It’s important to note that the growers asked the commissioner for help. He was invited to come to Vidalia to discuss ways to ensure the quality of the crop that is going to market,” said Bob Stafford, who manages the Vidalia Onion Business Council and works with the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel.
A vote at a May 30 growers’ meeting showed 11-1 in favor of the change, Stafford said.
Delbert Bland, of Bland Farms Inc., Glennville, filed a lawsuit challenging the change. He contends it is contrary to state statute. The state’s response to Blan’s complaint is due Nov. 18. An attorney for Bland said there will likely be a ruling in March or April.
The new start date is the Monday of the last full week in April every year. For 2014, that date is April 21.
Growers’ concerns not new
Black said growers started asking for his help at least 18 months ago. Stafford and several growers confirmed that.
Coral BeachRobert Dasher — G&R FarmsThey have become increasingly concerned about the effect immature onions have had on the industry, said Robert Dasher, 50-plus-year onion grower and co-owner of G&R Farms, Glennville, Ga.
“They might pass the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection for grade No. 1, but they aren’t mature Vidalias,” Dasher said. “They don’t have the shelf life because they’re too wet. When consumers try to slice them the rings fall apart because they’re soggy.”
When the onions started hitting retail shelves in early April, Black said his phone started ringing. He said he sent out inspectors and traveled to several stores himself to check the quality of the Vidalias. They were sub-par, he said.
In response, Black proposed the new rule in late June. It became law in August.
Black said on Nov. 14 that the process, which included three listening sessions and a public hearing, was completed early enough so growers could buy appropriate varieties of seed to meet the later start date, which is in effect for 2014.
“This is about maturity and shelf life,” Black said. “The objective is to get growers to choose varieties that come in with those qualities.”
Michael Hively, chief financial officer for Curry & Co., Brooks, Ore, and a partner in Sweet Vidalia Onions LLC, Collins, Ga., said the commissioner had to act. He said part of the problem is that inspection standards merely call for No. 1 grade onions to be “fairly firm.”