According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Virginia peanut farmers are enjoying one of the better harvests in recent years.

“This has turned out to be a good start to a good peanut season,” says VDACS Peanut Program Supervisor Jerry Gillespie, a 38-year veteran of the Department.

Experts are predicting the number of acres harvested should be higher in 2008. This year, Virginia peanut producers are expected to harvest approximately 23,000, acres which represents a 9.5 percent increase over the 21,000 acres harvested in 2007.

In addition, estimates also call for a higher-than-expected yield of approximately 2,800 pounds per acre on average across the Commonwealth, which is an increase of almost 4 percent over the 2,700 pound yield per acre in 2007. Well-timed rain in the midst of a dry summer helped boost the output.

But VDACS’ Gillespie says a good harvest is only the beginning of a successful year for Virginia peanuts. How they grade is equally important and for 2008, the grade looks good overall.

The responsibility for grading and inspecting Virginia peanuts belongs to the VDACS Peanut Inspection Program which helped market approximately 95,000,000 pounds of milled peanuts in 2006-2007. Program staff inspects and grades harvested peanuts at 27 Buying Points located in southeastern Virginia, looking at the meat content, size of pods, kernel size, moisture content, damaged kernels and foreign material. Quality factors determined by these inspections are used to establish how much the grower is paid for the peanuts and whether the peanuts will be used for edible or non-food uses.

After meeting the requirements for the grade specifications, the peanuts go through a final test to ensure they meet specific requirements for human consumption.

In Virginia, peanuts are big business. In 2007, the Virginia peanut industry was ranked No. 19 among Virginia’s top 20 commodities in terms of cash receipts which totaled $12,020,000. It is also ranked No. 9 based on production among other peanut-producing states Peanut production in Virginia is concentrated in the southeastern part of the state, in Southampton, Suffolk, Surry, Sussex, Greensville, Isle of Wight counties and the city of Suffolk.

Virginia peanuts are exceptional in size, flavor and quality. They are often used as a gourmet cocktail snack, either salted or unsalted, shelled or in-the-shell. But Virginia companies have varied the offerings to include additional flavors such as butter-toasted, honey-roasted, hot-and-spicy, hickory-smoked and barbecue, and featured them in brittle, squares and chocolate-covered.

Available in grocery, gourmet and specialty stores, Virginia peanuts are a good, nutritious snack as well as the perfect holiday gift.

Peanuts are not only delicious, they are good for you, too. A protein powerhouse, they are cholesterol-free, and a good source of folate, vitamin E, minerals and monounsaturated fats, the good type of fat. When consumed in moderation, peanuts may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Not only are peanuts a good, nutritious snack, they are also a welcome gift during the holidays. You can look for Virginia’s Finest peanuts at gourmet and specialty shops and your favorite grocers.