Remember our nutty roots

Published 10:14 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

As the price of cotton rises, more and more farmers are returning to the crop in Suffolk and throughout the South. Once ravaged by the tiny boll weevil, now that the destructive insect has been eradicated, cotton is emerging as the once and future king of the agriculture industry in the Southeast.

As farmers in the area have begun to take advantage of the market conditions and plant more and more acres in cotton, something had to give. And with federal peanut price supports a thing of the past and the demand for candy and snack peanuts having dropped during the past five years, the lowly goober pea has largely been pushed to the back of the farm shed.

As recently as 1999, Virginia farmers planted 77,000 acres of peanuts. This year, officials with the National Agricultural Statistics Service expect that peanut plantings will not break 14,000 acres. It’s a decline that has moved with a sense of inevitability since the passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

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The Virginia-type peanuts that are the basis of the candy and snack industry just have not been as attractive a crop to farmers lately as have corn and soybeans and cotton.

Considering the historic importance of peanuts to Suffolk and the surrounding area — despite his worldly manner, Mr. Peanut is a Suffolk native, after all — losing the crop here will be a significant and sorrowful occasion.

To be sure, market forces will do what they do, and the free enterprise system will ultimately — and rightly — seal the fate of Virginia peanuts, whether that fate be good or ill.

But many of us will look out over those fluffy white fields come fall and pine for the loss of something comfortable and close to our hearts. We just hope Mr. Peanut never forgets his roots here in Suffolk.