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Are Georgia's Producers Buying Inferior Onions? : Farm Extension Service Specialist Claims State Is Now 'Dumping Ground' for Low-Grade Seeds

August 06, 1987|Associated Press

STATESBORO, Ga. — Up to 20% of the state's Vidalia onion crop is not genuine Vidalias, because Georgia has become a dumping ground for inferior onion seeds, a crop specialist said recently.

But neither the seed companies, nor the growers, are doing anything improper, added Charlie Vavrina, the Georgia Extension Service vegetable specialist responsible for onions.

Because of seed company marketing strategies, Georgia onion growers often buy seeds that are only 80% true Vidalia onions. The remaining 20% are flat "off-types" that may be only half the thickness of Vidalias.

"Basically that's what they've been offered and that's what they have bought," he observed. "That's what they think is correct."

Sweetest in World

Growers claim Vidalia onions are the sweetest onions in the world because of the climate and the low-sulfur soil in the official Vidalia onion growing area. A 1986 law designates 13 counties and parts of six others as the official growing region.

As defined by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, true Vidalia onions are yellow granex hybrid onions, made by crossing USDA Yellow Bermuda 986 onions and Texas Early Grano 502 onions.

"Federal laws say any seed with more than 5% off-types can't legally be called a hybrid," said Vavrina. "So granex hybrid onion seeds should be 95% pure granex hybrids."

But if the seed label contains a statement giving the percentage of true hybrid types, then producers can legally call the seed a hybrid, he noted.

Most cans of Y-33 Granex onion seed, the type most often used to produce Vidalia onions, carry a statement advising that 80% of the onions are true to the type and 20% are off-types, he said.

Texas and California

By comparison, growers in Texas and California--two states that seed companies regard as high-volume marketing areas--buy seed that costs more, but is at least 95% true to type, he said.

"Seed companies target critical marketing areas. Huge acreages of onions are grown in Texas and California and just 6,000 acres are grown here.

"Georgia simply isn't considered a critical marketing area and is basically a dumping ground for poorer quality seed."

Vavrina said the seed widely sold in Texas and California costs more because of tighter quality control measures.

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