Rise of the mighty peanut

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, October 2, 2014

If you want to know how to do something right, go to the experts and pick their brains about how they do it.

That might have been the thinking for a delegation of 18 Japanese visitors who toured peanut facilities in Western Tidewater and Northeast North Carolina recently.

The Asian buyers visited Indika Farms, Birdsong Peanuts, Severn Peanut Co., the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center and Hubbard Peanut Co. in Sedley in a trip sponsored by the American Peanut Council and National Peanut Board. They could hardly have chosen a better set of experts in the field of Suffolk’s favorite legume.

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Birdsong Peanuts, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has a long history of selling to the Asian markets. From 1970 to 1990, according to Birdsong President Jeff Johnson, Japanese buyers bought most of their peanuts from Virginia, switching their focus to China, where they could get peanuts cheaper, in 1990.

But, according to Johnson, their interest in American peanuts has been re-ignited in recent years, due to rising prices in China — which is consuming more of its own peanuts, while simultaneously producing fewer of them — and to concerns about food safety risks for Chinese agricultural products.

Here in Virginia, peanuts are on a slow rebound from the lows they reached after government price supports were withdrawn. And the United States has some of the strictest food safety standards in the world, so buyers know they can count on peanuts produced here to be of the highest quality.

A renewed interest in Virginia peanuts from Japanese buyers could spur more farmers to return to planting the best peanuts around. And it could help return Suffolk to its rightful, historical position as the Peanut Capital of the World.

That would be good news for Suffolk, for Virginia and for Japan, as well.