The $1 billion loss peanut growers were expecting because of last year’s national Salmonella outbreak involving Peanut Corporation of American (PCA) is turning out to be–not so much.
Peanut prices are up over the last week, month, and year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday.
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Friday reported that the peanut prices received by farmers for all farmer stock peanuts averaged 23.1 cents per pound for the week ending Sept. 19th. The price per pound increased by a half cent from the previous week.
Purchases of all farmer stock peanuts for the week ending Sept. 19th totaled 209 million pounds, up 189 million pounds from the previous week.
Purchases of Runner type peanuts were 188 million pounds, up 173 million pounds from the previous week.
Harvest time means a crush of peanuts–Runners, Spanish, Valencia, and Virginias–are being hauled to market by a fleet of wagons (see picture) that are readied for just this time of year.
No less an authority than Don Koehler, who heads up the George Peanut Commission, thought the plunge in sales of peanut products last January and February and the recall of more than 3,900 food products using peanut butter or peanut paste from PCA as an ingredient would cost growers $1 billion. He now thinks it will be only one-fourth of that.
While the product recalls were expensive–Kellogg’s figures it cost $65-70 million to recall all its peanut products like Keebler and Austin Peanut Butter crackers–something happened to make it all better.
The National Peanut Board says consumers resumed eating peanut butter and related products. Just why might be the subject for a good late night discussion. Was it the recession, making peanut butter one of the few protein rich products folks can still afford?
Or is there some special psychology about it. The Atlanta Journal Constitution sought out Joseph Priester, a consumer psychologist and marketing profession at the University of South California. He says, “People feel attached to peanut butter.”
Or maybe Americans just have the attention spans of fleas. They’ve already forgotten about more than 700 people who were poisoned by Salmonella contained in PCA peanut butter, and the nine people who died after being infected.
For growers who are taking advantage of largely warm and dry conditions to get their peanuts out of the ground, why demand is back probably not all that important to them. They are just happy prices are trending up.
At harvest, peanuts are pulled out of the ground with a “digger-shaker” with one machine able to do about 50 acres per day. The peanuts are then left out of ground for a few days to dry before they are taken to a shelling plant.
A 2008 bumper crop won’t be entirely though the roasting, shelling, and distribution process until January 2010. As a result, about 30 percent fewer acres were planted with peanuts this year.
Americans eat 700 million pounds of peanut butter and about 600 million pounds of peanuts each year.
PCA was not the peanut industry’ first salmonella outbreak. As recently as February 2007, the Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter brands were caught up in a recall and outbreak. Faulting conditions at a ConAgra Foods plant in Sylvester, GA were found to be responsible.