Delbert Bland
Delbert Bland

Bland Farms, a large grower-shipper of Vidalia onions, is challenging the Georgia Agricultural Commissioner’s mandatory uniform start date for shipping the sweet onions.

Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga., said he wants a judge to decide whether the mandate is legal. He said a number of growers have similar feelings, but he didn’t want to wait for them, so he filed suit in Circuit Court in Atlanta with his company as the sole plaintiff.

“I’m 100% behind anything to improve and ensure the quality of our Vidalia onions,” Bland said Nov. 7.

“But I’m totally opposed to any mandatory start dates for anything. You can’t say a crop is going to be ready on the same day every year.”

In October, agriculture commissioner Gary Black announced the rule setting the Monday of the last full week of April as the beginning of Vidalia shipping every year. Traditionally, the commissioner has set the date each spring after consulting with the growers, the Vidalia Onion Committee and the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

Growers whose onions were ready for harvest before the start date could seek pay for inspections and begin shipping early under the old system.

Before announcing the new rule, the commissioner met with growers and others, but Bland said the meeting he attended had a split crowd.

“About half the people thought it could be handled with more stringent inspections for those who wanted to ship early,” Bland said. “That would be OK with me.”

Bland said the area where Vidalia onions are grown spans about 100 miles. He said everyone wants to be first to market, but often the growers in the southern areas have onions ready before those further north.