Vidalia onions to ship April 18

ATLANTA -- April 18 won't be a typical Monday this year.

Not only is it the deadline for filing federal tax returns because of an official holiday in the District of Columbia on April 15, it's the day the Georgia Department of Agriculture has set for the opening of the marketing season for one of the state's signature crops -- the Vidalia onion.

The shipping date was announced today by Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black, who made his decision based on the recommendation of the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel.

The Vidalia is a sweet onion unique to Georgia and can only be labeled as such if it is grown in a 20-county area in Southeast Georgia. Cooks like them for their sweetness and lack of heat when used raw or cooked. If an onion is harvested and shipped too early to get a jump on the market, it may not have the qualities that consumers expect from Vidalia onions.

The sweet onion can only be shipped before April 18 if the load has a Federal-State Inspection Certificate stating the onions in that load have met the established grade requirements and are under "Positive Lot Identification" as approved by the Federal-State Inspection Service.

"The Federal-State Inspection assures the quality of the onions and that they have matured to meet the marketing standards," Black said. "Onions that are harvested and shipped too early and do not meet the grade requirements can damage the reputation of this important crop."

In 2010, Georgia farmers harvested 227 million pounds of Vidalia onions from 12,095 acres, the Ag Department says. The value of the 2010 crop was $113 million, officials say.