Several growers said Vidalia onions have to be more than “fairly” firm before they are shipped because of the nature of sweet onion flesh.
“I would have preferred tighter inspection standards, but at the end of the day, he is the commissioner and we respect that,” Hively said.
Tighter inspection standards are not an option, at least in the short term, Black said, because that would require state legislative action and involvement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Black considered adding inspectors, but when he ran the numbers that would have added a collective $1 million in annual costs for producers, according to a letter he sent to growers.
Growers on the record
During a July 30 public hearing, representatives for three growers spoke in favor of the change — Aries Haygood, M&T Farms, Lyons, Ga.; Brett McLain, McLain Farms, Alliance, Ga.; and Robert Dasher, G&R Farms, Glennville, Ga.
David Jarriel, Dry Branch Farms, Collins, Ga., said he was “on the fence.”
Jerry Pittman, Pittman Family Farms, Alliance, Ga., spoke against the change, as did attorneys representing Delbert Bland, Bland Farms Inc., Glennville. Bland also filed written comments against the change, as did Pittman.
Four growers submitted written comments supporting the change — Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga.; Braddy Farms, Mt. Vernon, Ga.; Roberson Onion Co., Hazlehurst, Ga.; and Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, Ga.
Bland, who said in March this year that his company owns about 2,000 acres of Vidalia onions and contracts for another 1,000 acres, is concerned that he will have onions that are ready to ship but won’t be able to because of the new rule. About 12,600 acres of Vidalia onions were planted for the 2013 season, Stafford said.
Bland contends weather and other factors add up to different start times for different growers.
However, other growers say the new rule has flexibility built in while eliminating loopholes of the old system, which allowed growers to obtain special inspections to ship earlier than the official start date. It also allows growers to begin the harvest and curing process as needed.
“We were given the opportunity to self regulate and it didn’t work” said John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce.