From Suffolk to Africa

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, December 31, 2009

With Suffolk’s growing economy in distribution and food manufacturing, there’s little doubt that products originating in or passing through Suffolk end up all around the world.

That process will continue this week, when Ferguson Manufacturing Company, based on Madison Avenue downtown, will ship three two-row peanut diggers to Africa, with the possibility of getting an order for 25 four-row diggers once the first three are shipped.

“We’re excited about it, because we’re part of the food chain,” said Emmett Burton, president of Ferguson Manufacturing Company. “We’re not farmers, but we make the farming supplies.”

Ferguson, which has been in business in Suffolk 102 years, manufactures equipment that makes planting and harvesting easier and faster for farmers. The peanut digger pulls the peanut plants out of the ground, shakes the dirt off the plants and drops the plants on top of the ground so the peanuts can air-dry. The rows of peanuts are then picked up later.

Ferguson Manufacturing makes the diggers in two-row, four-row and six-row varieties. The more rows the machine can handle at once, the quicker the job gets done.

“The bigger the farm, the more rows it takes,” Burton said.

Burton does not yet know in which countries his diggers will eventually be used. An equipment supplier there will see how well the diggers sell before ordering 25 four-row diggers, Burton said.

“We’re hoping we’ll get that big order of 25 four-row peanut diggers,” Burton said. “Since it’s the same company that’s buying the three, we have to get the three to them first.”

The company was to have shipped the first three diggers in early December, but hit a snag getting the machines completed and out the door. The machines will be shipped in a box container like the ones seen in the Norfolk ports, Burton said.

Burton expressed hope that the order for 25 four-row diggers would come through.

“That would be a big order,” he said. “That’s more than 16 times this other one, because all we’re shipping now is two-rows.”

Farmers in China and India produce most of the world’s peanuts, with the United States ranking third in peanut production. After Argentina, China, India and Vietnam, African countries enter the peanut production rankings, according to the American Peanut Council. Peanut production on that continent can vary from year to year, depending on the crop quality and market demand.