Delbert Bland defied a warning from Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and began shipping Vidalia onions to supermarkets Wednesday. Black warned that he would fine any farmer who shipped the famous sweet onions before next Monday.
Bland and Black have been feuding over a new regulation that prohibits shipping the onions prior to the last full week in April. Black said the rule was adopted after extensive meetings with area Vidalia onion growers over a period of time. The purpose of the rule, Black said, was to protect the reputation of the Vidalia onions by keeping unripe onions off the market. He said his office had received complaints that some of the onions were not as sweet as in the past.
Bland sued the commissioner and an Atlanta judge threw out the rule. Black said he will enforce the rule even while the appeal process is underway. Tuesday a Superior Court judge in Glennville refused Bland’s request to stop Black from enforcing the rule.
Bland said he knows better than Black and other farmers when his crop is ripe. He also said he was allowed to ship the onions early with the approval of a federal agriculture official, who was at his farm Wednesday observing.
Mary Kathryn Yearta, Black’s spokeswoman, said “appropriate steps” will be taken against Bland.