Peanuts are one of America’s favorite and most versatile snack foods, capable of being eaten whole, layered in a candy bar or mashed into a peanut butter spread. In Oklahoma, peanuts are not just a great source of protein – they also ring the bell of the cash register.
“Peanuts have always been important to Oklahoma’s economy, even before statehood. They provide a significant source of revenue for farmers and processors,” says Mike Kubicek, executive director of the Oklahoma Peanut Commission. “The number of peanut growers in Oklahoma fluctuates, but peanuts are grown in 22 of our 77 counties, and those growers produce more than 30,000 tons of peanuts every year.”
Peanut production in Oklahoma brought in $20.79 million in 2011. Oklahoma ranks eighth in the nation for peanut production and is one of only 15 states that grows peanuts commercially.
Most peanuts grown in Oklahoma are concentrated in the southwest corner of the state. Nearly all (99.96 percent) of Oklahoma’s peanut crops are irrigated, so they thrive even in times of drought.
Growing the Crop
Anthony Reed of Thackerville has been growing peanuts all his life – a trade handed down to him by his father.
“My dad started raising peanuts during World War IIII in the late ’30s when the government wanted them for the peanut oil to be used in diesel tanks,” Reed says. “I was born in the ’50s and have been growing them ever since.”
Reed grows 70 acres of peanuts and averages 4,500 pounds per acre. His peanuts are irrigated Red River Runners, which he plants in mid-May and harvests around the first of November. The growing season is typically about 145 days.
“Peanuts are in my blood. I love sitting on the tractor seat looking back over my shoulder at my peanuts – they’re fun to watch grow,” Reed says. “They are very much a player in Oklahoma’s economics and still very much a part of Oklahoma agriculture. In some areas, peanuts are the backbone of a farm.”
Given the choice, Reed says he wouldn’t choose to work in any other industry.
“They can chisel it on my grave that I was a peanut grower. I’ll die a peanut farmer,” Reed says, then chuckles. “Not that I’m looking to do that very soon.”
Reed sells some of his crop to the Texoma Peanut Co., a parent company for the Clint Williams Co., an internationally known peanut processing company in Madill. Launched as a family business in 1968, the Clint Williams Co. has grown into an industry leader and one of the few independent, family-owned-and-operated companies remaining in the peanut processing business.
Today, the Clint Williams Co. processes more than 100,000 tons of farmer stock peanuts annually, with a high of 150,000 tons for the 2012 crop. They buy their peanuts from growers in Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas.
“Our company is known in the industry primarily as a peanut exporter, selling to companies that require a high-quality product,” says Steve Ortloff, vice president of the Clint Williams Co. “We sell to many companies in the U.S., but international business has been a big part of our growth over the last 25 years. It varies year to year, but we’ve exported as much as 75 percent of our total production.”
Once peanuts arrive in Madill, they are processed as in-shells, shelled or custom-processed peanuts. In-shells are farmer stock peanuts that have been cleaned, sized and sorted to meet customers’ needs, without removing the shell. Shelled peanuts are raw peanuts that have been cleaned, shelled, sorted and sized to different cuts.
“Shelled raw peanuts can be sold at that point, or they can be custom processed as blanched or bar-ready peanuts,” Ortloff explains. “Blanching is where we remove the red skin from the kernel. Bar-ready is an industry term for extra clean peanuts that are ready to go into a candy bar.”
The three types of peanuts grown and processed in Oklahoma include Virginia, Spanish and Runner peanuts.
“Virginias are the ballpark type peanuts you see roasted in the shell and in gourmet markets,” Kubicek says.
Spanish peanuts are primarily shelled for candy companies and sold raw for baking.
“Runner peanuts are the vast majority of what are grown in the U.S.,” Ortloff says. “Most Runners go to make peanut butter, but companies like M&M Mars, Hershey and Planters still use a lot of Runners as well.”