A group of 61 peanut producers from five southwest Georgia counties and one northwest Florida county have joined forces to form American Peanut Growers Group, LLC. The cooperative, based in Donalsonville, Ga., already has begun construction on a $14 million shelling plant.

The plant — scheduled to open on Nov. 1 — will be equipped and scheduled to process approximately 60,000 tons of peanuts annually, operating 10 months out of the year. The facility will have the capacity to shell 90,000 tons of peanuts, allowing for future expansion.

Members of the group grow peanuts in the Georgia counties of Seminole, Miller, Decatur, Early and Baker, in addition to Jackson County, Fla. Several of the growers already had worked together as owners in three cotton gins. Producers committed to the project have an average 90-percent-plus irrigated crop.

Construction of the shelling plant, according to a statement released by the group, will make them vertically integrated and “more connected to the markets we're supplying.”

The plant is being constructed on a 45-acre site, obtained from the Development Authority of Seminole County and Donalsonville, located in the Donalsonville/Seminole County Industrial Park. The shelling plant will run two shifts, shelling 19 hours per day and averaging 17 days per month.

Plans include giving the producer/owners time to increase their peanut production over the next several years and still have the capacity to handle their tons at the plant.

The new plant will create approximately 70 new jobs within the five-county region with an annual payroll estimated at $1.5 million. Further job creation in the transportation, maintenance and other service sectors is expected to occur.

With Georgia offering access to the best underground water supply in the Southeast, and a high percentage of irrigation already part of their production practices, local peanut producers have an advantage over producers in neighboring areas, according to officials with the group. No other shelling plant exists in the Southeast, they say, with such a high amount of irrigation potential.

The peanuts produced by American Peanut Growers Group will be located within a 35-mile radius from the new shelling plant. The plant will be adjacent to Coastal Cold Storage, Inc., a public refrigerated warehouse with 80,000 square feet of storage space and experience in handling peanuts.

Coastal Cold Storage has a rail spur in place and a bulk loading line for transferring peanuts into bulk-hopper railcars, required by major users of peanuts such as Hershey, Planters, Proctor & Gamble and CPC-Best Foods.

“This location alone will produce savings of $100 to $200 per truckload of shelled peanuts that most shelling plants must pay when sending products to outside refrigerated storage,” according to the group's statement.

“Owning the drying equipment, grading facilities, warehouses and shelling plant will allow American Peanut Growers Group to be vertically integrated, with the profit potential of being a peanut producer, warehouseman and sheller. They will grow, process, sell and promote their product while taking advantage of the strengths of their excellent soil and irrigation.”

Under the new peanut program, say the group's officials, economists predict that U.S. peanut consumption should increase with the availability of high-quality American peanuts at world market prices.

“These same economists further predict that production of peanuts grown in the Southeast should increase as well. American peanuts likely will increase exports with the ability to compete in the world market. It should be noted that peanuts produced in southwest Georgia are particularly recognized for consistent quality. All of these factors collectively indicate that southwest Georgia farmers will be able to grow and sell more peanuts.”

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com