If the peanut industry is to survive, all segments must work together, including growers, shellers, intermediate processors and manufacturers, says Tom Beaty of Universal Blanchers in Blakely, Ga.

“We can either make our changes and move forward together as a group, or we can go out of business. Someone else will do the job for us. But if we come together, we can deliver to consumers what they’re asking for,” said Beaty at the annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference, held recently in Panama City, Fla.

The final customer for the peanut industry, he says, is the person buying candy bars or a jar of peanut butter. “The housewife controls where the food is purchased and what foods are purchased — she is responsible for what her children eat, and we don’t want her buying a product that leaves a negative impression,” he says.

Universal Blanchers, he say, invested $10 million in 2000 to meet the needs of consumers by removing foreign material from peanuts. “We knew that if we were to survive, we would have to have the highest quality peanut, and we’d have to give the best service of any of our competitors,” says Beaty.

There are several things producers can do to help ensure a high-quality peanut, he says. The first is to establish a sound fertilization program, with a special emphasis on calcium and boron.

“If you have a boron deficiency, you have hollow heart. This creates a major problem for the industry because aflatoxin can form in the peanut,” he says.

Growers also must have a solid weed control program, especially for nutgrass and johnsongrass, says Beaty. “You might not be able to justify spraying an entire field for johnsongrass, but you can get on a four-wheeler with a pump sprayer and kill the spots that you do have. Don’t just plow through it and let it spread all over the field for the next year or the year after,” he says.

Fully utilizing your irrigation is another important factor in ensuring peanut quality, he says. “There is a ton of information out there about when to water and how to water, or the optimum time for irrigating to set a crop.”

It’s also important, says Beaty, to base digging decisions on the hull-scrape method to ensure the maturity of the peanuts. “Whenever the farmer delivers his peanuts to us, we try to process them, and an immature kernel is difficult to process properly. There’s a unique procedure for roasting a peanut that brings out the ultimate flavor,” he says.

Growers also should use sound digging practices to create a windrow that minimizes dirt and taproots, he says. “Sometimes this isn’t possible due to weather conditions. But if you do the very best you can do, it’ll pay dividends at the end of the day.”

Prior to harvest, it’s a good idea for producers to clean their equipment to prevent contamination from foreign materials and aflatoxin, says Beaty. “Sometimes, there can be rotten kernels in that equipment, and that deteriorates the quality of your peanuts. And we use drying wagons for other things, such as corn, which is a killer for those of us shipping peanuts to the confectionary trade. So keep your drying wagons clean.”

Peanut producers also should strive to reduce loose-shelled kernels and minimize the damage by using sound combining practices, he says. “You need to get out and see what your tractor driver is doing — make sure the RPM and ground speed are what they should be. In other words, let’s look after our business.”

Beaty also advises that growers use sound drying practices to minimize off-flavor and splits.

“Whenever a drying wagon heats up with peanuts in it, you can’t imagine what that’s doing to the quality of the peanut. Air is like water — it goes to the point of least resistance. Peanuts on the edge of the wagon could very well be 7 percent or 8-percent moisture while those in the middle could be 3 perecent to 5 percent higher. That hurts us in the blanching process. We can’t remove the skins from the peanuts.

“Drying is critical, and you’re not going to remove but about one half percent or 1 percent moisture per hour if you dry them correctly. You’re using heat to work out some of the humidity. When the relative humidity is 35 percent, you don’t even need to turn on the heat — just turn on the fan.”

Progress is being made, says Beaty, in improving the quality of peanuts. “We’re almost there in terms of delivering to the manufacturer a foreign material-free peanut. Peanut butter accounts for about 50 percent of our usage. The other 50 percent goes to roasted, salted, cocktail nuts and candy bars. Peanut butter doesn’t scare us so much. But the 50 percent that goes elsewhere will get us into trouble if we don’t clean up our act.”

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com