The Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association (PGCMA) is looking at a new role as a traditional co-op, says the group's general manager.

“There's no choice but to seek alternatives,” Dell Cotton told members at the final annual meeting of the PGCMA. You read it right — the final annual meeting.

Under the new peanut program, the PGCMA officially ends its traditional 49-year relationship with USDA on Oct. 31, 2002.

The organization, however, has been approved to handle peanut transactions in the Virginia-Carolina area, along with the Farm Service Agency, but won't issue checks directly from the buying point to the farmers as in years' past.

The major functions of the PGCMA — administering contracted additional peanuts, administering the price support and paying farmers — have been taken over by the USDA.

In anticipation of a new role, the PGCMA has gotten approval as a cooperative marketing association, while its board studies its options, Cotton says.

The organization is trying to figure out a way to serve the “function of providing a home for the producer and assisting him to have another option in marketing his peanuts,” Cotton says. “That's what we've always done, and that's what we'd like to continue to do,” albeit in a different role.

Cotton told the members at the 49th annual meeting in Williamston, N.C., “We're going to have to take our time and take it slow and easy. We don't have the funds to go out and spend willy-nilly.”

If what he's talking about becomes reality, the new entity could operate similar to a cotton cooperative, Cotton says. “There are differences between the marketing of peanuts and cotton.”

He says farmers in the V-C area have expressed the need to have a strong cooperative working on their behalf. “I'm not saying they want to keep their peanuts from the marketplace, but they do see the need to have a marketing alternative other than what's found in a concentrated industry.”

Cotton points to the market concentration as one of the primary reasons farmers feel they need marketing alternatives. “However, any attempt to benefit producers must be done with the users' needs in mind also,” he says. “A healthy producer leads to a healthy industry.

“We must find a way to come together,” Cotton says. “A cooperative spirit is among all segments of the industry imperative. An uncooperative spirit will be the final nail in the coffin.”

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com