Like the rush to be the first to get bottles of Beaujolais nouveau to Paris or an Alaska Copper River king salmon to Seattle, the pressure to sell the first Vidalia onions of spring is intense. The identity of this town rests on the squat, sweet onion. This time of year, just before the first of the Vidalias are pulled from the sandy soil, the green tops farmers call quills cover nearly every field.
Mostly, Vidalias mean money in this corner of southern Georgia. The crop brings in about $150 million a year to legally registered growers in the 20 counties that make up the official Vidalia growing region.
But there is trouble in the onion fields. Three Vidalia growers took the state to court last year. Instead of shipping out their onions on April 21, a date set by the state for this year as a way to protect the Vidalia brand and to keep the playing field level, the growers wanted to send out some onions early.