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Vidalias to debut on 'Tax Day'

In this May 2011 photo, a field worker empties a bucket of Vidalia onions into a waiting truck in Lyons.

In this May 2011 photo, a field worker empties a bucket of Vidalia onions into a waiting truck in Lyons.

ATLANTA -- "Tax Day" won't be quite so taxing next month for sweet onion lovers.

April 15, the deadline for filing state and federal income tax returns, also is the official shipping date for the 2013 Vidalia onion marketing season, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner, Gary W. Black announced Tuesday.

The shipping date, based on the recommendation of the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel, is set the ensure the onions meet quality standards. The onions are prized for their sweetness and lack of heat and are used both raw and cooked.

Some onions can be shipped before April 15, but only if they have a Federal-State Inspection Certificate verifying that they meet those quality standards and are under a Positive Lot Identification approved by the FSIC.

"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."

"Baby" Vidalias with greens attached also can be shipped ahead of the official shipping date.

Black said that the Vidalia onion industry is still reeling from the 2012 crop. Growers say that because of high temperatures during the growing season, the sweet onions were smaller than normal and were attacked by a virulent strain of downy mildew. Those conditions combined to reduce marketable yields by one-third, leading to a shortened season.

Growers this year, however, feel generally optimistic about the crop, state ag officials say. Most are reporting great stands, uniform growth and a general low-incidence of plant disease. But many are concerned about the cooler-than-normal temperatures that the growing region has experienced in the past few weeks and the forecast for more cool days. The expectation now, ag officials say, is the weather conditions will slow maturity and the onset of harvest to the point that few quality supplies will be available before April 15.

Georgia Vidalia onion growers plan to harvest more than 12,000 acres of the sweet onions this year in the 20-county growing area.