Japanese delegation visits peanut processors

Published 9:43 pm Monday, September 29, 2014

By Lynn Rabil

Special to the News-Herald

“Konnichiwa” and “arigato” were the words of the day as a group of 18 visitors from Japan visited a short list of peanut processors and farms in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, including Suffolk.

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Sponsored by the American Peanut Council and the National Peanut Board, these buyers were in the United States during harvest time to learn as much as possible about U.S. peanut production.

The delegation was welcomed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe during a luncheon in Richmond. Tour stops along the way included Indika Farms, Birdsong Peanuts, Severn Peanut Co., the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center and Hubbard Peanut Co. in Sedley.

Marshall Rabil of Hubbard greeted the visitors in a speech prepared in their native language and led the tour group through the plant’s production area.

During the plant tour, Hubs officials told of installing the company’s first fax machine in the 1980s and receiving their first order via that then-new technology — an order all the way from Japan.

Dell Cotton of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, Patrick Archer, executive director of the American Peanut Council, and others related to the peanut industry organized and accompanied the Japanese delegation throughout the tour.

“The tour was arranged by the American Peanut Council as a trade mission,” Cotton said. “The Japanese are interested in sourcing peanuts from Virginia and the Carolinas.”

Jeff Johnson, president of Birdsong Peanuts in Suffolk, also commented on the visit.

“The Japanese used to buy a lot of peanuts out of Virginia, basically from 1970 to 1990,” he said. “They switched to Chinese origin, because the peanuts were cheaper. Since 1990, they have been buying most of Virginia-quality peanuts from China.”

But two things have changed, Johnson added.

“First, China is producing far fewer peanuts for exports. They’re eating their own peanuts, and the prices are also up. Second is a food-safety issue. The Japanese don’t like the food safety risks associated with Chinese food products.”

He is hopeful that after 20 years the Japanese will turn back to the United States for buying peanuts.

“The Japanese are generally very loyal,” Johnson said. “In fact, we knew some of the fathers of those visiting. We wanted to remind them of our long history.”

Stephen Cowles of the Tidewater News contributed to this story.