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Farmer Wins 'Ridiculous' Court Fight Over Vidalia Sweet Onions

A Georgia farmer has won a battle against the state agriculture commissioner over the date Vidalia Sweet Onions can be shipped.

A Georgia farmer has won a battle against the state over the date Vidalia Sweet Onions can be shipped. File|Patch
A Georgia farmer has won a battle against the state over the date Vidalia Sweet Onions can be shipped. File|Patch

While state officials can decree what packaging can be used to ship Georgia’s famed Vidalia Sweet Onion crop across the country, they do not have the power to decide when farmers can begin harvest.

A Fulton County judge ruled last week that State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black overstepped his power when he gave himself the authority to determine when the onion crop can be harvested and shipped, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

State law gives Black the authority to determine packing rules, such as the materials or containers that can be used in packaging, but not decide when the onions can be shipped, the judge said.

This year Black told the growers they all had to wait until April 21 to start shipping their crops.

Delbert Bland, who farms about 3,000 acres of Vidalias each year, took exception to that mandate and filed a lawsuit. “I’m all for doing anything possible to help the integrity of the onion,” Bland told Georgia Public Radio, “but I’m not for a mandatory packing and shipping day to where all the growers have to wait to the same day to ship onions, which is ridiculous.”

With his court victory, Bland told the radio network he plans to start shipping his onions around the middle of April barring any appeal from the state. The Agriculture Department says the Attorney General is still reviewing the judge’s order. 

The onion, which is protected by a federal trademark and state law, is known for its sweetness when eaten raw. The crop is grown in a 20-county region and has an estimated $150 million annual economic impact, AJC.com says.

Harry Ball March 25, 2014 at 05:20 PM
Been waiting for the Vidalias to reach the markets! Best onions in the world.
Jas M Stacy March 25, 2014 at 06:18 PM
This is another of Mr. Bland's lawsuits. http://www.leagle.com/decision/In%20FCO%2020121129124
Mack March 26, 2014 at 09:46 AM
This is not a 'Ridiculous' law suit but an attempt to stop government from interfering in a private business. This farmer should have the right to operate his business as he sees fit and without the State telling him what and when he can do with his crop.
Beau waters March 31, 2014 at 08:53 AM
I hate it when only half of a story gets told. This is not a case of Government interference. For years the Vidalia onion has suffered from quality issues because in an effort to rush to market, immature onions that rot quickly on store shelves, have been harvested. In the past year, growers of the onion asked Commissioner Black to help them. Three separate listening sessions were held and an overwhelming majority of the growers asked for this very rule. Bland farms grows onions in Texas and Mexico and it is debatable wether his Vidalia onions actually come from Georgia. This rule takes away his huge advantage of putting out fake Vidalias and thus the reason for the lawsuit.
Jordan Reese April 17, 2014 at 12:27 PM
While some of you may think it is ridiculous, being a Vidalia native I feel that you are completely and totally uninformed. This is only half of the story. Vidalia Onions are what this town basically runs on. The onions bring in more money each and every year. However, when someone puts out onions that are not ripened to their prime, it creates a stink. People are then angry with the city of Vidalia for their rotten onions, rather than the grower/s for harvesting them too early. This is why Commissioner Black made this rule, because the GROWERS asked for it. For years people have put out "early Vidalia's" and it hurts the business for others who wait it out until the crop is ready. It also creates a bad name for Vidalia's if someone purchases them early and are unhappy. It's all about the quality of the onions. It's not ridiculous, it's the right thing to do.

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