Commissioner Gary Black issued a statement March 24 about the case, maintaining that he was within his statutory authority in August when he imposed the change that set a permanent start date for shipping the state’s trademarked onions.
“Lost in this discussion is (that) it is the sole responsibility of the commissioner to protect the integrity of the Vidalia onion trademark, a trademark registered to the Georgia Department of Agriculture,” Black said in the statement.
“Lost in this discussion is that the Georgia Department of Agriculture has worked with the Vidalia onion industry for 18 months to establish a pack date and the majority of the growers are in favor of this rule.”
The state’s attorney general’s office represented Black in the case. After the March 19 ruling against the commissioner, a spokeswoman in the office said no one in the attorney general’s office could comment because the case is pending.
The grower who challenged the new start date, Delbert Bland, owner of Bland Farms, Glennville, Ga., said earlier in March that he expected an appeal regardless how the judge ruled. Bland, who owns and contracts for about a third of the 12,600 Vidalia onion acres, said Black does not have authority to change the rule.
Bland said growers should continue to be allowed to ship Vidalia onions as early as they want, provided they pass inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as required by Georgia law.
Gary Black, Georgia agricultural commissionerBlack’s new rule sets the Monday of the last full week in April, which is April 21 this year, as the official first day of shipping. Vidalia onions are subject to a federal marketing order in addition to regulations in Georgia’s statutes.
Growers and the Vidalia Onion Business Council requested in 2012 and 2013 that Black take action because of what they described as immature, soft Vidalia onions being marketed. Council general manager Bob Stafford and at least a dozen growers are on record as having concerns about immature Vidalias being sent to retail and damaging the reputation and integrity of their crop.
Bland said March 20 that his lawsuit wasn’t about the maturity of onions, it was about whether the commissioner overstepped his authority.
“The commissioner of agriculture is authorized to take all actions necessary and appropriate to create, register, license, promote, and protect a trademark, for use on or in connection with the sale or promotion of Vidalia onions and products containing Vidalia Onions,” according to Black’s statement.
“The commissioner is authorized to prescribe rules or regulations which may include, but not necessarily be limited to quality standards, grades, packing, handling, labeling, and marketing practices for all the marketing of onions in this state.”