Drawing a page from their success with cotton gins, a group of southwest Georgia producers decided to get into the peanut business in 2001. This month, they plan to begin shelling peanuts, making them more connected with the markets they supply.

American Peanut Growers Group LLC now has about 60 producers from five counties in Georgia and one county in Florida who own part of the company. American Peanut Growers Group LLC has about 30,000 acres of peanuts. About 95 percent of its acreage is irrigated.

The group has six buying points in southwest Georgia and one in Florida. It also has storage in 12 warehouses.

A state-of-the-art shelling plant in Donalsonville, Ga., will make the group vertically integrated and “more connected to the markets we're supplying.”

Mark Hanna, a cotton and peanut farmer in southwest Georgia, is one of the founding members of the limited liability company.

He and a small group of growers who had already worked together as owners of several cotton gins first thought of the idea of “getting into the peanut business” in 2001.

“Ten years ago there were five or six shellers,” Hanna says. “Now there are basically two major shellers. It seemed like we weren't getting the price we needed to receive for our peanuts. We were told the price we were going to get for our peanuts.”

Hanna says the farmers formed a steering committee and enlisted the help of Terry Shamblin, who now serves as president and CEO of the group.

“We wanted to form a producer-friendly company to cut down one of the layers we have from the field to the manufacturer,” Hanna says.

With 2003 harvest, the group begins the shelling process for its 60 growers. The operation is unique in that 95 percent of the acreage is irrigated, Hanna says.

“We want to grow the kind of peanuts consumers and manufacturers want,” Hanna says. “Because all of our growers are owners of the company, we can do whatever the manufacturer or buyer wants — and we hope we can capitalize on that flexibility.”

The plant sits on a 45-acre site adjacent to Coastal Cold Storage, Inc., in the Donalsonville/Seminole County Industrial Park. Coastal Cold Storage is a public refrigerated warehouse with 80,000 square feet of storage space and experience in handling peanuts. It has a rail spur for bulk loading of peanuts into railcars, which is required by major manufacturers of peanuts such as Hershey, Planters, Procter & Gamble and CPC. Because of its proximity to the cold storage facility, the group will save costs of $100 to $200 per truckload of peanuts, when outside storage is necessary.