Under a new rule, Vidalia onions may not be packed before the Monday of the last full week in April, and shippers no longer have the option of packing before that date.

Under the new formula, Vidalias may not be packed or shipped before April 21, 2014, said Bob Stafford, director of the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

In several meetings of the council over the summer, growers and officials discussed changing the mandatory packing date system. A majority supported the changes, and Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture, Gary Black, approved them, Stafford said.

Prior to the changes, the Vidalia packing date was “symbolic” only, said John Shuman, president of Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc. Growers could always get circumvent the date and pack early as long as they passed an inspection. The problem with that, Shuman said, is that the inspections did not address the quality problems some growers were having with early-season Vidalia (vs. “traditional” Vidalia) onions.

“The inspections did not check immaturity,” Shuman said. “The didn’t solve the problems we had.”

The new system turns that “symbolic” date into a “firm” date, Shuman said.

It also makes it easier for growers to plan for the upcoming season, Stafford said.

“It gives them a better idea when to plant their seed beds and set their transplants,” he said.

Consumers should also benefit, Stafford said.

“Growers wanted to take this step to assure consumers that they’re getting the best product available.”

Pushing the date back to the last full week of April helps ensure that ealry-season onions will be mature, Shuman said. However, in the event of an unusually early spring, there could be wiggle room for the council to meet with Georgia’s ag commissioner to make an exception and move the date up, Shuman said.