VIDALIA, Ga. — Spring sees the maturing of the year’s sweet onions and brings a new crop of Vidalia industry honorees.

During the annual Vidalia onion industry banquet, growers, packers, marketers and allied industry people marked the successful 2010 season and employed a baseball analogy to liken the season to a home run.

At the Feb. 5 festivities, Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, said the 2010 season was one of the most successful marketing years.

She credited the achievements to everyone in the supply chain, from the growers and packers to their sales personnel, allied industry suppliers, such as packaging manufacturers, to retail supermarket produce merchandisers, who helped market Vidalia onions through the industry’s popular Shrek campaign.

Brannen said the industry’s campaign accomplishments helped push ceremony attendance to 250, making it a record crowd.

She characterized the banquet as a celebration of the sweet onion team’s “hitting it out of the park” in terms of marketing and an optimistic look forward to the 2011 marketing plan. The event also saw the industry recognizing its most valuable players.

This year’s ceremonies honored Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, as the industry’s Grower of the Year and paid tribute to Vidalia pioneer Delwin Dowdy of Dowdy Farms, Reidsville, who was formally inducted into the Vidalia Hall of Fame.

Bland and his late father, Raymond Bland, who won the Grower of the Year award in 1994 and was inducted into the Vidalia Hall of Fame in 2006, started the family operation in 1982. It now harvests and ships sweet onions to retailers throughout the year from growing areas on two continents.

Delbert Bland said he was humbled to receive the award because he said he thought he should be giving the industry an award because the industry has been very good to the Blands. He said he feels honored to be listed among the many people who have received the award in the past.

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

Bland has served on the committee’s board for nearly 20 years.

“We have become more professional in everything we do. This has really been a direct response to the people that are involved now.”

Raymond Bland died in 2009.

Dowdy also died in 2009. His wife Mary Dowdy accepted the award.

The industry commended Dowdy for always enthusiastically offering to share his onion growing expertise with other growers. During the late 1970s, Dowdy helped many growers start their operations.

Reid Torrance, Tattnall County Extension Service and area onion manager, said Dowdy would not only recall small details about previous seasons, but said growers told Torrance that Dowdy could recall how many days it was below a certain temperature, how long the soil remained frozen and other information relating to past seasons to try to predict what could happen in the current season.

“He spent more time looking at a field of onions than anyone I know,” Torrance said at the ceremony.

“He taught me, as a young county agent, to look closer, and closer still. This benefited me throughout my career in troubleshooting problems in fields.”

Recognizing Dowdy’s skills, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension service often used Dowdy’s farm for research projects and field days. Dowdy was noted for possessing a great willingness to cooperate with such efforts.

Committee chairman Aries Haygood, operations manager for M&T Farms, Lyons, participated in the festivities with immediate past chairman and current vice chairman Michael Hively, Bland Farms’ chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

As the new committee chairman, Haygood said the ceremonies were humbling and said he felt he has some big shoes to fill.

“It’s gratifying to be able to be talked about in the same conversation as industry greats like Bo Herndon, R.T. Stanley, the Cowarts and others,” Haygood said.

“It’s a good feeling to be someone that is young and relatively new to the industry. The farmers who have been in it a long time have enough confidence that I can do a good job representing the industry.”

Committee chairmen serve two year terms.