Peanut growers making new program work for them

It's a source of constant amazement at how some folks underestimate the resiliency and ingenuity of farmers. Less than two years ago, declarations were being made from all over that the end of the government's quota peanut program would signal an end to U.S. peanut production as we know it.

U.S. peanut growers, said the critics, were so accustomed to their cushy government quotas that they would never learn to survive in a more market-oriented environment. Either there would be huge shifts of peanut acreage, growers would move to other crops or peanut farmers would be forced to go to town and find a job. Some even said that peanut growers, thanks to their “million-dollar” quota buyouts, would be rushing to exotic locales, enjoying their early retirements in more tropical surroundings.

Now well into our second year of the new peanut program and, much to the chagrin of the critics, we're still planting and growing peanuts, and we're still doing it better than anyone else in the world. The proof is in the pages of this issue of Southeast Farm Press, where we honor the 2003 Peanut Profitability Award winners.

Please take a few minutes to read about the farming practices of Mike Newberry of Arlington, Ga.; Ricky Kneece of Pelion, S.C.; and Roger Neitsch of Seminole, Texas. You'll quickly see that U.S. peanut production is in good hands.

Rather than throwing up their hands and leaving their pickers at the edges of their fields, our Peanut Profitability Award winners and other producers across the Peanut Belt have embraced change, and they're finding new and innovative ways of making the changes work in their favor.

It's especially heartening to see how growers have accepted the challenge of marketing their peanut crops in lieu of a government quota. They're not only taking care of themselves, but they're also making an attempt to help revitalize their rural communities.

It's estimated that over the past two decades, 45 entities in the peanut shelling business have shrunk to about 10. Mergers and acquisitions have led to the closure of at least 30 small and medium-sized shelling places across the peanut-growing region of the Southeast. Most of these plants were in the rural areas of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

The closure of these shelling plants resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs in rural communities. Fewer shelling plants also led to higher farm-to-market transportation costs, cutting into growers' already decimated bottom lines.

Groups of peanut producers in the Southeast, not content to merely join cooperative marketing associations, are combining forces to create their own co-ops, complete with the infrastructure required to shell their crops. The pioneering spirit of these growers will create multiple benefits.

In addition to adding value and profitability to the crops of their members, these co-ops also will inject some desperately needed competition into the U.S. peanut industry. And, as a further benefit, the cooperatives will create jobs and an enhanced tax base in the rural communities where they are located.

So, rather than spelling the demise of U.S. peanut production, the advent of a new government program has brought out the best in the best peanut producers. Some of us are not surprised at that turn of events.

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