Several growers said Vidalia onions have to be more than fairly firm before they are shipped because of the nature of sweet onion flesh.
“I would have preferred tighter inspection standards, but at the end of the day, he is the commissioner and we respect that,” Hively said.
Tighter inspection standards are not an option, at least in the short term, Black said, because that would require state legislative action and involvement of the USDA because of the federal marketing order on Vidalia onions.
Black also considered adding inspectors, but when he ran the numbers he found that would have added $1 million in annual costs for producers, according to a letter he sent to growers.
Black said the months-long process preceding the change included three listening sessions and a public hearing. He said the process was completed early enough so growers could buy appropriate varieties of seed to meet the later start date. The new start date rule became law in August 2013.
“This is about maturity and shelf life,” Black said. “The objective is to get growers to choose varieties that come in with those qualities.”
Some growers said they had to ask the commissioner to act to protect their onions’ reputation.
“We were given the opportunity to self regulate and it didn’t work” John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce, said in November. “If there is a reason to start earlier, the rule has a clause for that.”
The clause, which Black also cited, states “The commissioner may, depending on crop conditions and with the recommendation of the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel, specify a packing date other than the Monday of the last full week in April.”