Fighting for a seat at the table of choosy consumers around the world can be a pretty tough nut to crack.
But it’s a task that suits Houston County, Ala., peanut farmer George Jeffcoat perfectly. After all, he knows the business from the ground up — literally.
Jeffcoat grows more than 1,000 acres of peanuts annually on his farm in Gordon, located southeast of Dothan. This year, he’s spent almost as much time on the road as he’s spent tending his crops, traveling the globe promoting peanuts as chairman of the National Peanut Board.
The fifth-generation farmer is approaching the end of his one-year term as chairman of the group, and he’s completing his sixth year on the board.
“The main focus of the board is research and promotion,” said Jeffcoat, who also serves as president of the Houston County Farmers Federation and as a board member of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association. “More demand equals more value for farmers. Research is especially important for me and all farmers so we can meet that growing demand.”
The board is funded by the National Peanut Checkoff. Producers in each peanut-producing state nominate a member to the board, which then is approved by the U.S. secretary of agriculture. Jeffcoat said he wants peanut farmers to know their money is being put to good use.
Money well spent
“We spend 80 percent of the checkoff money for promotion, and 20 percent goes toward research,” he said. “We have to make consumers aware of our product. We compete with all other nuts and food items for a market share, so it’s important that we encourage consumers to remember peanuts, not just for a snack, but in a variety of ways.”
Some promotions include introducing chefs of large restaurant chains to use peanuts in their recipes along with the ongoing efforts to use peanuts in the candy and snack markets.
Alabama Peanut Producers Association Executive Director Randy Griggs said Jeffcoat is an excellent example of how producers lead the organization.
“George has done an outstanding job,” Griggs said. “He’s sacrificed a lot of time away from his farm this year, but he knows how important it is to him and all the farmers he represents.”
During his year as chairman, Jeffcoat visited numerous states, from California to New York. He traveled to Japan in August, where he met with the Japanese Nut Growers Association. During all the meetings he attended, the representatives were most impressed that he was an actual farmer.
“I think it impressed them (the Japanese officials) that I wasn’t some corporate spokesperson, but I am a real farmer who actually grows peanuts,” Jeffcoat said. “They appreciate the quality of food we grow, and meeting a real farmer gives our product credibility. It’s important that we put a face on our industry.
“It’s been an honor for me to represent peanut farmers from throughout the country, and it’s been an experience I’ll never forget.”