Tattnall County farmer Delbert Bland said he plans to start shipping Vidalia onions from his Glennville farms today. If he does, that could cost him a hefty penalty for each bag or box he ships this week.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said he will fine any grower who ships before the last full week in April under provisions of a new regulation designed to prevent unripe Vidalia onions from hitting the market.
Bland said he is best qualified to determine when his crop is ripe, not the commissioner or other farmers. He took the commissioner to court and won a decision from an Atlanta judge who said Black overstepped his boundaries. Black appealed and warned he will enforce the rule even during the appeal process.
Bland and Black met in court for the second time Tuesday. Round two of the dispute went to Black. Superior Court Judge Jay Stewart ruled against Bland who asked that Black be barred from enforcing the rule during the appeal process.
Black said the rule was put into effect after many months of consultation with Vidalia onion growers. The purpose, he said, was to protect the reputation of the sweet onion. Black said there had been some complaints from consumers and sellers that the onions were not ripe and were not as sweet as in the past.