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.