Peanut farms avoid the drought, and flourish

Peanut farmers in the south are reaping a bumper crop. That’s bringing down wholesale prices and likely will benefit consumers, at some point.

Today's report on the country's gross domestic product tallied some of the damage from this summer's drought. The government figures that hot and dry weather cost the economy four-tenths of a percent worth of growth during the last quarter.

While the Midwest was being walloped, however, the Southeast largely escaped the drought's clutches. In fact, peanut farmers are reporting a banner harvest.

Don Koehler, who represents Georgia's peanut growers, declares, "It's by far the best crop that I've seen in 26 years as executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission." Koehler urges consumers, "Eat some peanuts and peanut butter. We're drowned in a sea of them right now!"

Koehler says farmers are already fetching significantly lower prices. Retail prices, by some estimates, could fall by 10 percent to as much as 30 percent. Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council, says it may take some time for that price break to reach consumers. He expects prices at the supermarket to start moderating "later this year and into 2013," as this year's cheaper crop starts moving into the marketplace.



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That would be especially good news for food banks across the country, which favor easily stocked, high-protein items like peanut butter. At the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, CEO Andrew Schiff says it would make it possible to buy more supplies from wholesale providers. That kind of purchasing requires cash donations, however, and Schiff worries that retail prices have been too sticky so far to prompt more direct giving. "Donations of peanut butter I don't expect to go up significantly," he says, "because it still remains expensive."

With wholesale prices already half of what they were last year, Georgia peanut farmer Armond Morris worries about too much of a good thing.

"I don't particularly want us to have a surplus to drive prices down to a level that the producer can't make a profit," Morris told Marketplace. Then he mentioned other farmers who didn't fare so well this year, and added: "We were blessed."

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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