Official: Local peanut sales up

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

Roosevelt County peanut growers and manufacturers appear poised to cash in on the nationwide salmonella scare.

Sunland Peanuts has seen an increase in sales and customer base coast-to-coast, said Jim Shearer, CEO and president of Sunland Inc.

“The recent peanut scare has not affected Sunland or local growers,” Shearer said. “Sales for our new and existing large accounts have seen increase in volume since the scare.”

According to associated press reports, the ongoing salmonella outbreak has sickened some 600 people in 43 states and is linked to nine deaths.

More than 2,000 products have been recalled, one of the largest in U.S. history.

Recalls now include cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream, pet treats and much more and the government has started a criminal investigation.

Shearer said the scare has caused problems for peanut growers in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“Last year the Southeast had their largest crop and highest number of acres planted,” Shearer said. “The scare resulted in an increase in the nation’s peanut surplus.”

U.S. peanut farmers produced 2.6 million tons of peanuts in 2008, according to associated press reports.

So many peanuts created a 800,000-ton surplus, leading some producers to consider not planting them this year.

Nationawide, the peanut industry is telling growers to cut back their crop, said Wayne Baker, Roosevelt County peanut grower.

“In 2008, the nation’s peanuts growers produced a huge crop,” Baker said “But the peanut surplus has grown because of low sales and the salmonella scare.”

If low sales and a surplus were not enough hardship for peanut growers, peanut shellers have not yet offered any contracts on peanuts other than Valencia, Baker said.

Peanut shellers often offer contracts, locking in a price before farmers plant. This helps farmers decide how many acres to devote to the crop.

In many states shellers have not offered any contracts and some are saying not to expect a contract until after peanuts are planted.

Baker said that many of the Spanish, Runner and Virginia peanut growers will be reducing the acres they plant and looking for an alternative crop to plant. He said Valencia peanut growers are expecting higher yields and the same market as in 2008.

While Roosevelt County growers and manufacturers are optimistic about the market outlook they are concerned about the weather.

Last year the peanut yield from Roosevelt County was 25 percent lower then expected due to the weather, said Naveen Puppala, of New Mexico State University and a peanut breeder.

“Last year every thing that could go wrong did,” Shearer said. “When we needed dry, hot conditions, it was overcast, and when the growers began to harvest their crop it rained.”

Baker said that the forecast predicted for the area shows a strong indication of drought conditions.

“Well, when it comes to droughts you learn to live with it, but you never like it though,” Baker said.

Puppala said that the local industry could plant more acres of peanuts to make up for 25 percent yield shortage last year.

“The market for Valencia peanuts grown by our local farmers should not be affected by the surplus,” Puppala said.