VIDALIA, Ga. — The Vidalia sweet onion industry honored one of its leading grower-shippers and memorialized a pioneer who helped promote the deal.

Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, won this year’s Grower of the Year award and Delwin Dowdy of Dowdy Farms, Reidsville, was formally inducted into the Vidalia Hall of Fame.

Bland heads a sweet onion growing and shipping operation that sends onions to retailers throughout the year from growing areas in the U.S., Mexico and South America.

Bland took on his “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes” motto when he and his late father, Raymond Bland, who also won the Grower of the Year award in 1994, started the operation in 1982.

“I feel very humbled because I should be giving the industry an award because it has been very good to me and my family,” Delbert Bland said. “It’s an honor and there are a lot of good people that received this award before. I feel very honored to be in that group.”

Raymond Bland, who died in 2009, was inducted into the Vidalia Hall of Fame in 2006.

Vidalia onion industry honors growers

Courtesy Vidalia Onion Committee

Michael Hively (left), general manager of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga., presents company president Delbert Bland with the 2010 Grower of the Year award. 

Vidalia onion industry honors growers

Courtesy Vidalia Onion Committee

Reid Torrance (left), Tattnall County Extension Service and area onion manager, inducts the late Delwin Dowdy of Dowdy Farms, Reidsville, Ga., into the Vidalia Hall of Fame. Dowdy’s wife, Mary Dowdy, accepts the award for her husband.

Dowdy’s wife, Mary Dowdy, accepted the posthumous award for her husband, who also died in 2009.

Growers say Delwin Dowdy was always willing to share his onion growing knowledge with other growers and enthusiastically helped many growers get their start in the deal in the late 1970s.

The industry lauded Dowdy for being a strong good grower and packer as well as a wise marketer.

Reid Torrance, Tattnall County Extension Service and area onion manager, presented the award.

“This award goes to someone who was a very dear friend of mine. He taught me a great deal about onion production and the onion business. And he taught many of you as well,” Torrance said.

Delbert Bland was one of a small group of growers who traveled to Washington D.C. in 1988 to persuade the U.S. Department of Agriculture to form the Vidalia Onion Committee, which administers Federal Marketing Order No. 955. The committee began operation in 1989.

The Feb. 5 banquet wasn’t publicized until late February.