ATLANTA (AP) — Farmers are taking sides in a battle over the quality of Vidalia onions, the iconic brand grown in south Georgia that's known around the world.
In response to concerns in recent years about inferior onions on the market, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has imposed new regulations on when the vegetables can be packed. The reason: Black has said that onions harvested too early have resulted in inferior Vidalia onions with shorter shelf lives.
However, some farmers argue weather conditions and other factors determine when an onion crop is ready to harvest. They say they're in the best position to know from year to year. One prominent Vidalia farmer has hired former Attorney General Mike Bowers to fight the new regulations in court, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/HoiNjm ).Vidalia onions are the state's most valuable vegetable crop, with an estimated $150 million annual impact on the state economy, the Atlanta newspaper reports. The vegetable is protected by federal trademark and state law that created a 20-county region where Vidalia onions can be produced.
The rule change, which will take effect early next year, no onion may be packed or sold before 12:01 a.m. on the Monday of the last full week of April. In 2014, that's April 21.
"The rule will solidify consumer confidence through providing the high-quality onion for which the Vidalia is known," Black said in an interview from a rocking chair in his Capitol Hill office. "The rule ensures the sweet taste, increases the shelf life, and allows for the proper, flat, shape."
Delbert Bland has grown Vidalia onions in Tattnall County for 30 years.
"I am 100 percent in favor of doing anything possible to improve the appearance, as well as the quality of the Vidalia onions," Bland said. "That's my livelihood. It's all I've ever done."
Black's solution, however, "is totally unacceptable," Bland said.
"You can't dictate or set an arbitrary date a year away when Vidalia onions will be mature and ready to ship." Bland said he's seen mature Vidalias in early April and some that weren't ready until late April.