(March 22) The official shipping date for the start of the Vidalia onion season has been set for April 10, but supplies are likely to be light until later in the month.

“People might ship a few loads on the 10th, but it will be a dribble here and dribble there,” said Bo Herndon, chairman of the Vidalia, Ga.-based Vidalia Onion Committee and president of L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc., Lyons, Ga. “There won’t be much volume before the 20th of April.”

Onions can be shipped before April 10, but they must be certified as U.S. No. 1 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal-State Shipping Point Inspection Service. That service will cost shippers about $125 a load, Herndon said. If they pass inspection, they can still carry the “Vidalia” name.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture implemented the inspection date in 2005 to protect the crop’s reputation.

“The goal is having a better-quality product and make sure they’re not being harvested before they’re mature,” said Wendy Brannen, the committee’s executive director.

Herndon said it was unlikely that much volume would be available for shipping before April 10. The date, set by the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel with final approval by the state’s department of agriculture, is a week earlier than last year and 18 days earlier than 2005.

Brannen said that fresh Vidalia onions should be available through mid-July, and supplies should be available through Labor Day.