For me, a rising senior at Auburn University, any excuse to head to the beach is met with little hesitation. So when I was told before my internship at Southeast Farm Press that it would involve a three-day trip to Panama City, it was just icing on the cake. I had never been to any kind of growers' conference before, so it was hard for me to know what to expect.
The first day of the Southern Peanut Growers Conference was a chance for me to meet and greet many of the growers and sponsors I would get to know better as the conference progressed.
As I should have expected, peanut butter cookies — among other peanut butter delicacies — were being served to all. That was only a small taste of the peanut filled-week that was to come.
The conference included several sessions that were meant to be both information sessions and feedback opportunities for farmers to their federal representatives and resident farming experts. The first of these sessions I attended related to the political side of peanut production.
Terry Everett (R-Ala.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) spoke about everything from the situation in Iraq to the upcoming challenges for the next farm bill. After saying he would try not to get “political,” Westmoreland added his two cents about the upcoming elections and how they could impact farm policy.
After that, the real opinions of peanut farmers in the South became clear. A panel was assembled to represent groups including the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation and the National Peanut Buying Point Association. The panelists made opening statements on necessary changes for the next farm bill before answering questions from the audience, or, the growers.
Many growers wanted protection from the owners of the land they farm on, claiming the new farm bill should include a clause that gives a greater reward to the grower — not the landowner — for a successful season. Each grower who spoke out on this issue was met with cheers and applause from the audience.
Their unity on this issue would have sent a mandate to Everett and Westmoreland on that particular issue had they not departed minutes after their speeches. That's not to say the growers' voices went unheard, because those who cared enough to stay surely will not forget the desperation in their voices that was obvious when they spoke of stopping the use of leased land if profits did not increase.
These growers did not by any means want out of the peanut growing industry via the most profitable method, they were only trying to show leaders in the industry that they are being faced with difficult financial situations partially because of current legislation.
The next day, several other growers asked questions at the financial planning session regarding how to make their farms more financially stable. This reminded me that while these peanut growers are trying to run a successful business, their ultimate goal is keeping that business in the family and keeping the family on its feet.
While this may seem like it is a fairly obvious goal everyone has, there is one important difference. The growers understand that for agriculture to continue as a significant part of the American economy, it must stay profitable. But, more importantly, it must stay in the family.
Matt Dischinger is a senior in journalism at Auburn University completing his summer internship with Farm Press.