I heard two of the top peanut farmers in the Southeast say at last year’s Southern Peanut Producers Association meeting that if the storage and handling fees that were paid by the government were taken out of the farm bill and the cost placed on farmers, they would not grow peanuts in 2007.

My politically connected colleagues tell me that storage and handling is gone. My peanut growing friends say they can’t afford it — not on $450 per ton peanuts. Shellers who often get by on high volume and low margins say total acreage is down so much that volume is an issue. Paying the storage and handling fees, they say, will put some shellers out of business.

Who is going to blink here? Peanut acreage is projected to be down in the Southeast, level, if not down slightly, in the Carolinas, and up in Virginia. As of late May, an intense drought, topped off by stifling smoke from uncontrollable forest fires has delayed planting of peanuts in Georgia, and to a lesser degree in Alabama, leaving some doubt just how many peanuts CAN be grown in the Southeast in 2007.

I’m not a big fan of what the Republican Party has done for farmers. In fact, their record borders on abysmal on a number of fronts. Still, the Southeast and agriculture were well represented with majority Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

It appears the new political leaders, the ones with the hyphen and capital D following their names are more intent on saving the environment and developing high cost alternative fuels than saving the farmers who contribute the most to both causes.

I have a lot of faith in the folks who drive the peanut industry on behalf of growers. Folks like Randy Griggs, Del Cotton, Don Koehler, Bob Sutter and Brad Boozer are among the most competent and dedicated people I know. Whether they can pull another rabbit out of the hat remains to be seen.

Southern politicians, Sanford Bishop being the most vocal, continue to support agriculture in general and peanuts in particular, but their voices are not nearly as loud as they were when the Republican Party controlled both chambers of Congress.

Politicians will get by and get re-elected — that’s generally what they do best. Store owners, veterinarians, school teachers and thousands more professionals in towns like Abbeville, Ala., Blakely, Ga. and Williamston, N.C., and hundreds of others built on peanut-generated revenues probably won’t make it — at least not economically.

A government that can spend billions of dollars fighting a war the majority of Americans now agree shouldn’t have been fought should be able to afford $50 per ton for peanut storage and handling, if that’s what it takes to keep a viable American industry afloat.

Evidently bad publicity and negative vibes from our international trading partners has caused too many politicians to turn a deaf ear to agriculture. And peanuts and cotton seem to be the latest whipping boys.

I’m not a betting man, but I would wager heavily that should an enterprising researcher develop an environmentally friendly peanut variety that will produce enough peanut oil to make 600-700 gallons of biodiesel per acre, and some equally enterprising scientist develops a cost effective way to convert peanut oil to diesel fuel, those same politicians will be quick to jump on that bandwagon. After all, saving the environment and ridding America of dependence on Middle Eastern oil that we spend billions annually trying to protect are the kind of things that can get one re-elected.

Evidently, saving rural communities and helping an industry that has supported American values since its inception — as part of the home-front effort to win World War II — is no longer a ‘re-electable’ issue.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com