Georgia peanut industry prioritizes growth in the 2023-24 farm bill

A big topic of concentration in 2023 is getting peanuts competitive in the international market.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 4:53 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Talks of legislation on the 2023-24 Georgia farm bill are heating up for the peanut industry.

The farm bill runs and expires every six years. The last bill was last passed in late 2017. Now is the time for farmers, growers and sellers to all discuss what’s going to be in the new bill.

It’s also a discussion between the cotton industry, the soybean industry, the potato industry and every agriculture industry.

A big topic of concentration in 2023 is getting peanuts competitive in the international market.

“We believe other countries are unfairly disadvantaged in U.S. peanuts, and peanut farmers, and peanut products,” Chairman of the US Peanut Federation, Karl Zimmer said.

Zimmer is also the CEO and president of Premium Peanuts.

He wants increased protection for farmers with poor yields and a reduction of international trade barriers. Right now, the bill is in the beginning stages.

“It’s a critical piece of legislation to make sure that we have the economic support for peanut growers,” Zimmer said.

Joe Boddiford is a grower himself. He’s also the chairman of Georgia Peanuts. He says the stakes are high.

“A safe, nutritious, food supply for this country. It is a national security issue. It’s critical that we maintain a safety net because the input costs are so extraordinarily high,” Boddiford said.

Georgia produces 50% of all U.S. peanuts. It’s not just the peanuts the industry is concerned about. Peanuts rely on rotations of cotton, soybean and corn to keep yields high in the long run. Zimmer says if farming becomes profitable, it will remedy farmer shortages.

“We need this industry to be economically viable so we can attract talent,” Zimmer said.

The good news for peanut growers is that almost nothing was going for them last year, but farmers made it out.

Some are still finding success in employing workers. Lewis Carter is on the manufacturing side of agriculture. He has hired 50 people in Albany and many others from Georgia.

“We teach them trades. We teach them how to operate machines. We try to make them think and try to make them responsible,” Lewis said.

Lewis says labor laws have made it a challenge to find skilled labor, but he manages it by making sure the workers are from South Georgia and have a good work ethic. This is so they are at least comfortable in their environment.

“One of the reasons why I farm is because it’s in my blood. I’ve seen many young people not return to the farm. I’ve seen many successful farmers discouraged in coming back to the farm,” Boddiford said.

This year, farmers are still uncertain about when to plant and what to plant. Timing is everything for farmers looking to lock prices in and minimize the impacts of the disease. Increasing farm sizes makes it difficult to minimize negative impacts.

“Sometimes the goal in farming is to not lose money or to minimize the money you lose,” Boddiford said.

Tomato Wilt Spotted Virus and aflatoxins reduce yields. It’s a constant battle. There’s still uncertainty with newer breeds of peanuts that can potentially reduce disease impact. High input costs are still an issue, but it’s getting better. Boddiford is optimistic because the selling price of peanuts is high, and supply chain issues are slowly being resolved.

“It’s like a train slamming on the brakes trying to take back off all the logistics of that,” Boddiford said.

The discussions on the farm bill are still in the beginning phase. The farm bill could get done this fall.

Boddiford says an early 2024 time frame is a better bet.