Up until 2002, Virginia traditionally produced 70,000 to 80,000 acres of peanuts. In 2006, peanut production fell to a 50-year low of an estimated 16,000 acres. The high cost of production, especially managing sclerotinia blight, cylindrocladium black rot, tomato spotted wilt virus, and host of other production problems, combined with low contract prices paid for peanuts has driven most growers out of business.
Though profitability is a challenge for most Virginia peanut growers, specialty markets and creative marketers, like Good Earth Peanut Company are keeping the industry afloat. Good Earth Peanut Company, in Skippers, Va., has been in business since 1989, providing an outlet for several tons per year of Virginia grown peanuts.
While some peanut specialty companies are tied in with one or two growers, Lindsey Vincent, who owns and operates Good Earth Peanut Company, buys from a number of Virginia growers. Vincent, whose family has grown, processed and sold peanuts for several generations, has had the idea of a specialty marketing company in his mind for a long time.
“Among my favorite memories growing up in southeastern Virginia is eating the large kernel peanuts grown here and prepared using my grandmother's special recipe. I couldn't get it out of my mind that someday, I would use her recipe to process peanuts,” Vincent says. He now ships peanuts all over the World, and the best seller is — his grandmother's recipe.
Along with his grandmother's recipe, made with or without salt, Vincent sells individual or multiple combinations of double-dipped chocolate, Cajun, honey toasted, butter toasted, quadruple drool, and salted redskin peanuts.
From an old peanut warehouse that his ancestors once used to store peanuts, the Virginia entrepreneur is heavily involved in processing peanuts. His company also sells peanut brittle, peanut squares, and multiple other peanut and nut candies. A country store adjacent to the peanut warehouse, turned processing plant, is used to direct-sell peanut products.
A stop at the Virginia Welcome Center, only four miles from Skippers, provides travelers along the business I-95 corridor that runs from New York City to Miami, provides a sample of Good Earth Peanut products. That marketing idea, Vincent says, brings plenty of tourists into the small general store and helps spread the taste for Virginia-grown peanuts.
Like many businesses, Good Earth Peanut Company started as a part-time business. Selling peanuts to local organizations and to people at their full-time workplace allowed the business to grow, and it has grown each year for the past 18 years. Now, a thriving catalogue business and stop-ins from I-95, plus local word of mouth advertising has made the company a full-time business for Lindsey and Scott Vincent.
Virginia Tech Peanut Speciast Joel Faircloth says, “we have a number of peanut processors in this region that demand Virginia-type peanuts. The carryover stocks from the past two years have limited the number of contracts available to our producers. So, while reduced contract prices and high production costs have resulted in a sharp reduction in peanut acres since 2001, the reduction in acres over the past two years has been due to the lack of availability of contracts.”
When supply is up, the only solution is to increase demand. It is critical to have local marketers that are thinking creatively. There are 16 specialty processors in southeast Virginia, most want only 5-10 percent of the crop produced, because they deal only with extra large and super large kernels, he explains.
While Virginia farmers have never lacked the skills, nor the desire to grow peanuts, changes in the peanut program and ever-escalating production costs has taken a dramatic toll on production in the past three years.
“We have been amazed that virginia-type acreage has not increased slightly over the last two years, but without a contract and no national exchange to forward contract, Virginia-type peanut production becomes a risky proposition.
Next year, we anticipate the availability of contracts will increase due to the widespread drought in the peanut belt and higher freight costs. This will likely reduce carryover and increase the number of contracts offered to Virginia producers,” Faircloth concludes.
Specialty marketers, like Good Earth Peanut Company also play a vital role in the Virginia peanut industry, because they introduce more and more people to the high quality of the large Virginia-type peanuts grown in the state.
For Lindsey Vincent, selling Virginia-grown peanuts has been a lifelong dream come true. With 18 years in the business, and still growing, Good Earth Peanut Company will provide a ready made market for many tons of Virginia-grown peanuts.