Bolstered by a National marketing coup, better disease control options and higher contract prices, optimism is high among Virginia peanut growers and acreage is expected to increase 35 percent to 40 percent in 2007.
Back in 2006 the Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina peanut growers associations collaborated to develop a certification logo they hoped small, gourmet-type peanut companies would use in advertising Virginia-Carolina peanuts.
In early 2007 they got their first customer — not a local company, rather food giant Kellogg's Corporation. The company is releasing a new breakfast bar, Natural Lift, which contains peanuts, cranberries and raisins. Natural Lift will be sold nationally and will promote the use of Virginia-Carolina peanuts by displaying the Virginia-Carolina peanut logo and in words on each box of the new product.
“We are not saying our peanuts are better than those grown in other states,” says Dell Cotton, executive director of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association and a leader in the drive to get the logo registered. “However, over a long period of years, our peanuts have proven to have a taste that stands out from other peanuts. We are very proud of the quality of our peanuts, and we were looking for a way to differentiate our peanuts from those grown in other parts of the country,” he adds.
“A year ago we went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and applied for the certification logo. This certification covers any peanuts grown in Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina,” Cotton explains. Though it does not exclude runner type peanuts grown in these three states, the promotion is intended to promote the larger Virginia type peanuts.
“We were pleasantly surprised that Kellogg's was the first company to contact us about using the logo. In January of 2007 the new product, Natural Lift, was introduced with a National advertising campaign. Though they don't mention in their advertising campaign the source of peanuts, our logo is prominently displayed in the lower left corner of the box and the wording says, packed with Virginia-Carolina peanuts,” Cotton says.
Cotton adds, “We continue to urge Kellogg's to mention our peanuts in their ads and to include our logo on all their products that contain peanuts, but so far that hasn't happened.”
The marketing announcement was followed closely by contract offers at $490 per ton, with some incentives growers could top $500 per ton. These contracts are for Virginia type peanuts, though recent studies indicate in some growing conditions, runner type peanuts may be a good choice for Virginia growers.
The two positive developments early in 2007 followed years of behind the scenes work by a team of Virginia Tech scientists, working to develop new varieties and new production techniques to help producers lower input costs without decreasing yield and quality of Virginia-grown peanuts.
Though many scientists are involved in efforts to rejuvenate the Virginia peanut industry, the unofficial peanut team is headed by State Peanut Specialist Joel Faircloth, Virginia Integrated Pest Management Leader Ames Herbert, and Plant Pathologist Pat Phipps.
Working at the Tidewater Area Research and Extension Center, the peanut team has developed new varieties and adapted both new and old ones to better production techniques that are helping Virginia growers reverse the trend that has seen peanut production in the state drop dramatically in the 21st Century.
The recent turnout at the annual Virginia peanut production meeting was evidence of the new optimism among growers. Though no official tally was kept, most of the peanut growers in the state were in attendance at the 60th annual meeting.
At the meeting they heard the latest research findings on new herbicide systems for weed control, updates on managing thrips-vectored tomato spotted wilt virus and other insect pests of peanuts. And, they saw some interesting comparisons of growing Virginia-type versus runner type peanuts.
Direct comparisons in both research plots and in grower fields gave growers some options for different varieties, and these varieties were tied to specific pest management systems. They also got a glimpse into the future of peanut varieties as Beth Grabau, a geneticist and head of the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science at Virginia Tech, gave an update on the new transgenic peanuts that are now only a year or two from being available to growers.
With acreage expected to increase from 16,000 in 2006 to 20,000 to 21,000 acres in 2007, Virginia peanuts appear to be on the road back. “We would like to see acreage back in the 35,000-40,000 acre range, and with the optimism we are seeing among growers, this seems very possible, according to Cotton.