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Posted: Wednesday, April 16th 2014 at 12:01pm

Ag Commish talks 'onions' after Awards Breakfast in Gainesville

By Marc Eggers Staff
click to enlarge
Abit Massey (L) greets Commissioner Gary Black
GAINESVILLE – State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black quietly mingled among the guests at the annual Hall County Agribusiness Awards Breakfast Wednesday morning at the North Hall Community Center. He was not listed as one of the speakers, but wanted to show his support by attending.

“These are home folks; these are the folks I have worked with for my entire career,” Black said. Black’s personal farm is located in Jackson County. “I glad we could come over and support them this morning.”

Following the awards ceremony (see list of winners at end of story), Black was asked about the Associated Press news story that had run the day before saying that an injunction was being sought to stop Black’s setting of an “earliest –shipping date” for Vidalia onions.

Black said at issue is the quality of the famous south Georgia bulbs. “My email box has been flooded…since the AP story hit and went all around the country. From states (like) Maine to the hinterlands of America they’ve emailed us saying, ‘Thank you for stepping up and doing something because we’ve noticed that there is an early season problem.’”

Black added, “The onion in the first of the season should be the same as the onion in the last of the season.” The discernible quality that Black says is affected by the rush to market is sweetness.

Black has said publicly that the Department of Agriculture will enforce his decision that no Vidalia onions be shipped before the first Monday in the first full week ending the month of April (April 21 this year) despite the ruling by a Fulton County Superior Court judge that Black had over stepped his authority in setting the date.

“There may be a handful that are shipped, but that will be done at their own peril,” Black said, “up to a $5,000 per box fine or the potential loss or revocation of license.”

Black emphasized, “We’ve worked with the farmers, the vast majority of whom support this (date), and we’ve been working on a solution for eighteen months.”

“This is not something we did from Atlanta; this is something we have done on the ground in Vidalia with the (growers), because the producers know they have a problem. They…have to keep the early products off the market because they’re not the Vidalia onions, they don’t hold those qualities that people have grown to trust.”

“But,” Black went on, “there’s flexibility in our rule. If there are weather conditions that hasten the development of the crop…they can recommend changes to make it earlier.”

Black said that the late winter weather across the state (below freezing temperatures across north Georgia the morning of this story) had almost made early-harvest a moot point for this year, but he wanted the issue settled for future crops.

Later in the day, an onion grower who has been at odds with Black over the shipping date announced that his first shipment was leaving today (Wednesday). (See separate story.)

Winners of the 2014 Hall County Agribusiness Awards are as follows:

~Friend of Agriculture – Atlanta Falcons
~Outstanding Agribusiness – United Community Bank
~Farmer of the Year – Todd Clark Farms
~Agriculture Hall of Fame – Buddy Belflower

Associated Categories: Homepage, Business News, Local/State News, Politics

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Gainesville, GA 30501
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