Vidalia onions to be available April 16 as farmers forecast ‘strong’ harvest
By David Pendered
Georgia’s prized Vidalia onions will be available for purchase and shipping on April 16, now that growers have set an opening date that is an annual rite of spring for fans of the sweet onion grown by only a few farms in a small region of Southeast Georgia.
Fears that above-average rainfalls this year would harm the crop have not materialized, according to a report by Aries Haygood, the newly elected chair of the Vidalia Onion Committee.
“We are going to have a strong harvest this year,” Haygood said in a statement released Tuesday.
About 9,400 acres were planted, she said. That’s down from more than 12,000 acres planted in 2013, according to another report.
Pam Knox, who directs the 86-station Weather Network of the University of Georgia, wrote in her blog on Wednesday that the abundant rain has been a concern for the onion harvest.
“[C]onsumers are already asking about how the onions look this year,” Knox wrote, continuing:
- “Rainfall in the Vidalia region has been much above average for the year to date, and the UGA Weather Network station at Vidalia has received 18.46 inches since Jan. 1. I am sure that this has been of concern to onion producers as they harvest their crop, but have not heard of any major issues with this year’s crop, which is expected to be strong this season.”
Not to worry, according to Haygood and Gary Black, commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Agriculture. This year’s harvest is to fulfill the reputation of Georgia’s sweet onions, which is trademarked by the state.
“As the keeper of the official trademark for our state vegetable, we are proud of the reputation Vidalia onions have earned around the world by both renowned chefs and home cooks,” Black wrote.
Vidalia onions are a major industry for Georgia. The state Legislature enacted a law in 1986 that set out an array of provisions to protect the crop from onions who want to name their product as Vidalia onions, even though the product is merely a sweet onion and may never have been in Georgia.
The statement released by Black’s office notes that Vidalia onions are hand cultivated in 20 counties in Southeast Georgia, and are grown by 60 growers who are registered.
State law places restrictions on companies that make boxes in which Vidalia onions are shipped. The Legislature identified container manufacturers as the link in the supply chain that can best track scofflaws.
Box manufacturers are required to keep records for four years of companies to which is sold boxes marked for Vidalia onions:
“Container manufacturers will be required to maintain for a period of four years, records indicating the quantity of Vidalia onion containers produced and persons to whom sold or shipped. Each person who produces or packages onions as Vidalia onions, must maintain records for a period of four years indicating the number of Vidalia onion containers purchased, and disposition or use of those containers. A manufacturer of containers shall not sell containers imprinted with the name and address of a producer or packer to anyone other than that producer or packer. A manufacturer shall not sell stock containers (containers imprinted with the term “Vidalia” and bearing no producer or packer name) to anyone other than a currently registered Vidalia onion producer or packer.”
The penalty is a civil fine of up to $20,000, with proceeds deposited into the state treasury, according to state law.