The National Peanut Board (NPB) has announced the appointment of forest industry veteran Raffaela “Marie” Rizzo as the board's first executive director. The announcement was made at the Georgia Peanut Farm Show held in Albany.

Established in the spring of 2000, the NPB seeks to increase the consumption of U.S. peanuts and peanut butter and fund research to help lower production costs and improve quality. Effectively combining three elements into one, the NPB serves as an industry organization, a large product marketing enterprise and an extensive research and education initiative, says NPB chairman Murray Campbell, a Camilla, Ga., producer.

As executive director, Rizzo is responsible for implementing the board's programs on a day-to-day basis. She will plan, organize, direct and implement NPB activities at state, national and international levels. In addition, Rizzo will staff and site the board's headquarters in Atlanta.

“We believe we can have an immediate impact on farmers' bottom lines by helping develop solutions to various disease and pest problems, water problems and production techniques through research that is being funneled back through the state certified producer organizations.”

“We reviewed many exceptional candidates during a four-month search to find the most qualified leader,” says Campbell. “Marie clearly emerged as the best choice, given her outstanding communications and business qualifications, her industry experience and her ability to bring together diverse groups to achieve common goals.”

Rizzo joins the NPB from the corporate relations department of Florida-based forest products company Rayonier Inc. During her 20-year career with Rayonier, Rizzo served as company spokesperson, developed and administered media and community relations programs, product promotions, employee communications and public affairs for the company's Southeastern region. She has extensive experience with industry associations and issues management, which included having directed the Florida Industry Rally and the Georgia We Grow Trees campaign, now in its eighth year. Rizzo joined Rayonier from journalism and publishing.

Rizzo is an accredited member of the International Association of Business Communicators and sits on multiple business and civic board, including United Way, Kiwanis International, American Cancer Society and chambers of commerce. In addition, she is the recipient of more than a dozen professional awards.

Rizzo holds a master's in business administration from Jacksonville University and graduated magna cum laude from Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, Conn.) with a bachelor's degree in media studies.

The NPB's annual funding is approximately $10 million, which provides funds to develop domestic and export advertising and promotion programs. It also funds research to reduce production costs, explore nutrition research and investigate potential ways to mitigate peanut allergies. The board may enter into cooperative agreements with peanut product manufacturers to promote U.S. peanut products.

Campbell gave a brief overview of the board's recent activities at the Georgia Peanut Farm Show. The NPB, he says, has committed more than $3 million towards research grants and more than $11 million towards advertising, marketing and promotions.

The NPB has authorized $2.1 million in funding for 56 different research projects, to be administered through the certified state peanut producer organizations in 2001. Another $1.2 million has been earmarked by the NPB for addition production research, bringing to $3.4 million that the board has allocated to state production research projects out of its current budget.

The research projects will include work on major problem areas for peanut producers, including sclerotinia blight, Southern stem rot, tomato spotted wilt virus, early leafspot, cylindrocladium black rot, root-knot nematodes, water management, aflatoxin and others.

“Helping to lower production costs for peanut farmers is one of the critical missions that the National Peanut Board is focusing on,” says Campbell. “We believe we can have an immediate impact on farmers' bottom lines by helping develop solutions to various disease and pest problems, water problems and production techniques through research that is being funneled back through the state certified producer organizations.”

The work will be coordinated through the respective certified state peanut producer organizations, including the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, Florida Peanut Producers Association, Georgia Peanut Commission, New Mexico Peanut Board, North Carolina Peanut Growers Association, Oklahoma Peanut Commission, South Carolina Peanut Board, Texas Peanut Producers Board and the Virginia Peanut Growers Association.

Participating universities in the research projects include Auburn University, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State University, Louisiana State University, Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Texas Women's University and New Mexico State University.

Of its promotions spending, the NPB is allocating $3 million to advertising, $2 to PR and publicity, $1.5 million to health and nutrition, $1.5 million to export promotions, $1 million to the March of Dimes and $2 million for a peanut exhibit.

Advertising will be handled by the firm of Ogilvy and Mather, known for its work with the National Cotton Council, American Express and Kraft Foods. The peanut exhibit will be the world's largest traveling peanut, says Campbell, and will tour cities throughout the United States promoting peanut and peanut products.

The March of Dimes campaign will be a two-year sponsorship, with links being made to the health benefits of folic acid, he adds. An export promotion campaign will aim to increase U.S. exports of peanuts and peanut butter. An in-market advertising campaign will target Canada, the United Kingdom, Latin America, Germany and the Netherlands.

Health and nutrition funds, says Campbell, will be geared towards a national education program, third-party advocates such as registered dietitians and researchers and allergy kits for schools. Included in publicity and promotions is a website for the board, www.nationalpeanutboard.com/