If you ask Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission, he’ll tell you that the peanut is a wonder food. He should know. He’s been involved in the peanut industry for more than 28 years.
Koehler may have a bias toward peanuts, but his assessment of Georgia’s largest cash crop is spot-on.
Recent studies link peanut consumption to the reduction of cardiovascular disease, adult onset diabetes and the risk of some cancers. This is all good news for Georgia’s peanut growers, particularly since the state already produces 45 percent of the peanut crop in the U.S.
Koehler says that on average, peanut growers farm a combined 500,000 acres, and a typical harvest yields about 1.1 million tons of peanuts.
“The farm gate value is about half a billion dollars, and if you look at related industries, [the value of peanut production] is over $2.5 billion,” Koehler says. “Related industries would be everything from seed, equipment, fertilizer providers and processors that shell and clean the peanuts, or who make peanut butter or salted nuts.”
Secrets to Success
Koehler says one reason for the continued success of the peanut industry is the availability of research and development at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“Our new varieties have really moved us forward by leaps and bounds,” Koehler says.
He adds that having a supportive state legislature and proactive agriculture organizations also help. But when asked what sets Georgia peanuts apart from those grown in other states, his response is the growers.
“We have the finest climate, the finest soils. We have everything it takes to grow a peanut that’s fully mature and has all the flavor a peanut can have,” he says. “But the first thing I’d tell you is that it’s the growers that make Georgia peanuts so special.”
One of those growers is the 2014 Georgia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award, Philip Grimes, owner of Docia Farms in Tifton.
Grimes has been growing peanuts for more than 20 years. He farms about 600 acres of peanuts on his 2,000-acre farm, which also includes corn, cotton, broccoli, snap beans and cantaloupe. He says peanuts are profitable because they work so well in crop rotation. His 600 acres yield about 2,000 tons of peanuts each year.
“Georgia has good soil and good irrigation for peanuts and south Georgia peanuts have a better flavor than [peanuts grown] anywhere else in the country,” Grimes says.
A robust peanut industry has been a boon to communities like Tifton. The peanut farm gate value in Tift County was $26 million in 2012, according to Grimes.
“For a county like Tift, that’s a lot of money being pumped back into the local economy,” he says.
A healthy yield can sometimes mean an excess in supply, which is why peanut farmers in central Georgia were glad when Hardy Farms opened a new roasting facility in Hawkinsville.
At full production, the plant can operate three shifts a day, 350 days a year. The facility’s central location also means shorter production lead times and faster delivery to distributors. But more importantly, the company is able to provide another market for Georgia peanut growers.
“The peanut industry is doing well, and we’re absorbing a lot of that supply,” says Brad Hardy, president of the roasting division for Hardy Farms Peanuts. “A lot of the oil roasting business has been taken out of the state over the last several years. We started this facility to bring some of that back and show the rest of the country how great Georgia peanuts really are.”