What a helpless feeling U.S. peanut producers must have had for the past six months or so. Regardless of their best efforts, they’ve watched their industry reel from a series of unfortunate events.
To say the least, it has been in inauspicious first half of the year for our nation’s peanut farmers, with supply and demand numbers that dictated a significant reduction in this year’s acreage and the salmonella crisis that eventually was traced to a single, troubled manufacturer.
But the confidence these producers have in the crop they’re growing hasn’t wavered. As a grower stated very matter-of-factly to me recently, “We’ve got a good, wholesome product, and it’s affordable for families…we’ll come out of this okay.”
In January and February of this year, demand for peanut products fell as rapidly as a bank’s stock price, but in March there were definite signs of improvement as sales rebounded. Volume sales of peanut butter increased by 5.6 percent from March of 2008, an amazing comeback under the circumstances. According to Information Resources, Inc., consumption had plummeted 19.4 percent in January and nearly 1 percent in February. These numbers were in line with a survey conducted by the National Peanut Board which found that more than half the consumers who were avoiding peanut products felt they would resume using peanut butter sometime between early March and May.
When you consider the fate of other food products that have been recalled nationally for one reason or another, the rapid comeback of peanuts is even more amazing, and attributable to several factors, not the least being the quality and wholesomeness of the product being produced by our growers.
For many years, peanuts and peanut butter have been widely recognized as one of the most affordable and nutritious staples in the American diet and farmers have done more than their share to protect and enhance this reputation. And while no one wishes for an economic recession, the current downturn certainly has helped boost the popularity of products that strike that rare balance of being both affordable and nutritious.
Another factor in the resurgence of peanut products is the tremendous support of groups like the National Peanut Board, and regional and statewide organizations like the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, the Georgia Peanut Commission, the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, the Florida Peanut Producers Association, the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association and the Texas Peanut Producers Board.
Many things — such as the salmonella crisis — are out of the growers’ control, but they can be assured that while they’re toiling in the fields, these groups are representing their interests with due diligence.
And producers obviously are aware of this, as evidenced by the fact that they continue to reaffirm the checkoffs to fund their state organizations and more recently approved a USDA referendum to continue the work of the National Peanut Board. The referendum, held in April, was passed by 89 percent of the producers who voted.
Since its beginning in 2001, the National Peanut Board has been instrumental in maintaining markets and increasing the consumption of U.S. grown peanuts. The Board offers the following as highlights of its work:
• Increased peanut mentions on menus of top 200 restaurant chains by 146 percent over the past seven years.
• Increased peanut butter usage by an average of 21.5 percent since the launch of National Peanut Board programs.
• Invested more than $13 million on more than 275 production research projects to help farmers increase yields while implementing the most sustainable farming practices.
• Funded more than $6 million in food allergy research, education and outreach to help identify causes and seek treatments for food allergy sufferers.
• This spring, launched “Peanuts: Energy for the Good Life,” the centerpiece of a new nationwide advertising campaign and slogan available for use across from peanut industry.
Peanut producers have done their job — they’ve reduced their acreage to be more in line with supply and demand estimates, and they continue to produce the highest yielding, highest quality peanut crop in the world. And the organizations that support these growers are doing their part. It’s up to the rest of us to keep buying their products and spreading the word about their benefits.