Peanut prices rise

Published 11:22 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mac Williams, a worker for Bosselman Farms, evens out a pile of peanuts on top of a trailer after the peanut picker dumped them. Prices for goober peas are up this year because of a national shortage.

Sticker shock in the peanut butter aisle is likely on the shopping list for Suffolk residents in the coming weeks.

Peanut butter brands have hiked their prices recently in response to a shortage of peanuts. This year’s goober crop was far short of what had been expected, thanks to nationwide weather problems and sky-high cotton prices, which caused many farmers to devote former peanut acres to cotton, instead.

“It’s a combination of a few things,” said Dell Cotton, executive secretary of the Franklin-based Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association, which advocates for peanut growers in Virginia and the Carolinas. “It started with last year, because the Georgia, Florida and Alabama crop was affected by drought last year.”

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Even that problem could have been overcome if this year’s crop had been at least average, Cotton said. But many farmers converted peanut acreage to cotton to cash in on those high prices, which, in turn, drove up peanut prices.

Then came the weather problems — wildfires in Texas, drought pretty much all over and then heavy rain toward the end of fall, especially as a result of Hurricane Irene.

“We’ve got an excellent crop in our area,” Cotton said. “But in the scheme of things, we’re not the high percentage of the acres grown in the country.”

Unfortunately for local farmers, most won’t see a benefit from the higher prices because their peanuts are already purchased on contract for a lower price.

“As far as us getting any more money out of it, we won’t see it this year,” said Bosselman Farms owner David Bosselman. His family grew about 310 acres of peanuts this year.

Any peanuts that weren’t already under contract likely can be sold for around $1,000 a ton, Cotton said. Normally, the price would have been around $650 a ton.

And though very few area peanuts wind up in peanut butter — the Virginia-Carolina variety is best used for in-shell and gourmet varieties — locals still will wind up paying the higher prices at the store.

Right now, Cotton said, farmers likely aren’t concerned about the price of peanuts or peanut butter — they’re just trying to make sure they have a product to sell.

“What they’re concentrated on now is getting their crop in,” Cotton said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to get this crop in.”

He encouraged area growers to devote more acres to peanuts next year.

“The cupboard is bare, so we’ve got to build the supplies back,” he said. “But we’ve got to be cautious about that. You can’t oversupply, because that kills the prices the other way.”