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Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 10:18am

Wait 6 Days To Pack Onions? Not If This Vidalia Farmer Can Help It

The state’s largest Vidalia onion grower is awaiting word Tuesday on whether he can harvest and ship onions without facing state fines.

Delbert Bland of Bland Farms in Glennville says much of his crop is ready and he’s packing this week.

That’s contrary to a ruling from Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. He’s told growers to wait until Monday, April 21 to pack. Black says immature onions are damaging the Vidalia brand.

But Bland says being the first to market is important for locking in deals with retailers.

The Glennville farmer says he can sell onions at a premium earlier in the season.

“And it’s not necessarily price, as much as it is market share,” said Bland.

Bland is challenging Gary Black’s ruling setting April 21 as the pack date. Many Vidalia growers are siding with Black, saying they think an official start to the season would improve the crop’s quality.

Bland disagrees. He says being the first to market is important for locking in deals with retailers.

“You can’t take and sit there and let them buy from somebody else for the first week or two and then expect them to drop that supplier and switch to you because you got onions.”

Bland sued the agricultural commissioner over the packing date issue, and a won a victory in Fulton County Court last month. The commissioner has appealed and is telling Vidalia farmers not to pack onions until Monday.

A Tattnall County judge is expected to weigh in Tuesday on whether Bland could face fines for continuing to pack onions.

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