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Peanut prices down, but still a valuable life saver

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When I think of low peanut prices and of a big peanut stockpile, I think about all that nutritional power piled up, ready and needing to go someplace.

I’m thinking about pent-up power. Why? Because there are a lot of peanuts pent up in the U.S. pipeline today.

With two pretty good back-to-back production years -- 2012 being a record –buster -- it is going to take a while to work through the supply and get farmer prices back up again. Contract prices will roll back up eventually, but probably not anytime soon.

U.S. peanut acres were down about 35 percent in 2013, which they needed to be compared to 2012 acreage when farmers planted nearly 1.6 million acres and then pulled off some of the best yields ever. But even in 2013, yields came in surprisingly good: Alabama is at 3,100 pounds per acre, Florida at 3,500, Georgia at 3,900, and Mississippi at 3,200, with an average in the Southeast of about 3,645.

The industry will need peanuts in 2014 for sure, but we’re still looking at a major carryover crop, and smart people think prices for next year will hover around $475 to $500 per ton and not exceed $500 per ton. When I think of peanut prices like that and of a big peanut stockpile, I think about all that nutritional power piled up, ready and needing to go someplace.

The power of the peanut is pretty amazing. It packs about all you need, with two simple pieces of bread, to get your body through every day. Mixed with a precise mixture of vitamins and minerals, it can keep starving children alive; not only alive, but help them thrive. An amazing legume it is, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

It has become the main ingredient in ready-to-use therapeutic foods, or RUTFs, by many government and non-government organizations to combat malnutrition around the world. The peanut has for many decades been known as a staple nutritional food. But only in the last decade has its energy been harnessed to fight malnutrition and bring much-needed relief to those hurt by natural disasters.

Global aid groups, including UNICEF and the United Nation World Food Program, now use peanut-based therapeutic foods. Packaged in several ways, the vitamin-rich paste has become the “gold standard” tool to effectively and efficiently fight acute malnutrition around the world. Combined, UNICEF and WFP buy 1,250 metric tons of the stuff annually.

I’ve had the good fortune, or misfortune, to go to areas hit by tragedy and by shocking malnutrition, and in many of those places I’ve seen peanuts making a difference in people’s lives. Not only that, but it tastes good -- really good. Peanut butter can quickly turn a sad, hungry belly into a big, wide-eyed smile on a child, and that’s beautiful thing to see firsthand and well worth the price of admission.

By far, most of the U.S. peanuts are grown by readers of Southeast Farm Press, covering production from Virginia down to Florida, with Georgia plopped there in the middle supplying nearly half of the annual peanut production. I’m proud to say that peanuts are a big part of the Southeast.

The Peanut Proud and Peanut Butter for the Hungry come to mind: solid, good peanut industry professionals who know how to get peanuts to the people who need them. They take donated peanuts and help needy people, those hit hard by tragedy and those who are starved.

Now, should peanut farmers donate some of their peanuts to groups that help feed folks with the peanuts? Sure, if they want to...please do. But that’s a personal decision and a business decision mixed together, and that can be a tough call.

Ag provides and contributes so much to the daily lives of all. But I was just thinking about the peanut here, and how even in its simplest state it can provide so much on its own. It’s a good message and one I like to talk about every now and then.

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