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State earns spot on Peanut Board

By Glen Chase

This article was published March 25, 2014 at 3:09 a.m.

Arkansas is now a “primary peanut-producing state” after federal agriculture officials Monday issued final rules that will put an Arkansas grower on the National Peanut Board.

Peanut farming, mostly in the state’s northeast counties, is seeing a rebirth in Arkansas as more farmers are including peanuts as part of their crop rotation.

“Arkansas has the right soil, climate and adequate water to grow high-quality peanuts, and the crop fits well into the rotation cycle of our other major crops,” said state Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture published the order containing Arkansas’ designation in the Federal Register.

To be eligible for designation as a “primary peanut producer,” states must average at least 10,000 tons annually over a three-year period. In its order seeking public comment about Arkansas becoming the 11th state with full voting rights on the board, the federal Agricultural Marketing Service said the state’s peanut production averaged 15,348 tons from 2010 through 2012.

The Arkansas Peanut Growers Association, formed several years ago as interest in the crop grew, is expected to move quickly to nominate both a full member and an alternate to the national board, said Cynthia Edwards, deputy agriculture secretary.

In anticipation of the state’s designation, Kyle Baltz of Pocahontas, a peanut farmer and owner of Baltz Feed Co., on Friday resigned his position as an alternate at-large member representing small-producing states to the national board, which is based in Atlanta.

Baltz said he made the move to reflect Arkansas’ status, not necessarily to seek the state’s seat on the board.

“This is kind of a validation of all the good work put in by a lot of people,” Baltz said. He said if Arkansas can get its prospective board members and alternates chosen by early May, they can join the board by the fall, rather than having to wait until Jan. 1.

Ryan Lepicier, the board’s senior vice president for marketing and communications, said Baltz would have to resign his at-large seat if he seeks to become Arkansas’ representative.

Lepicier said the USDA oversees the election process, with board membership subject to the approval of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. If no hitches pop up, Arkansas’ representative could join the board as early as August.

Edwards said anyone who grows peanuts in Arkansas is eligible to vote in the election. Growers are expected to meet this week to begin the nomination process and set a date for the election, which will require at least 30 days notice before it can be held. The association is expected to forward the names of two prospective board members and two alternate members to the Peanut Board for Vilsack to pick from.

Currently, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency lists 104 peanut growers in Arkansas, said Tony Franco, a program chief with the agency based in Little Rock.

The Peanut Board is charged with promoting peanuts to consumers as well as supporting research into improving peanuts as a crop. The board oversees an annual budget of $8.69 million.

“Everybody who’s commercially selling peanuts pays an assessment to the Peanut Board,” Lepicier said.

In addition to having a say in the board’s budget, Arkansas will be eligible for research dollars that can either be Arkansas-specific or pooled with money from other states for broader research projects.

Baltz said the research money is based on peanut prices and acreage. Arkansas’ share would be less than $100,000, he said, but would provide a significant boost to state-specific peanut research.

Currently, 10 states are designated as “primary” peanut-producing states. The largest of those, Georgia, produced 881,875 tons from 425,000 acres in 2013.

Arkansas growers produced about 21,000 tons from nearly 12,000 acres in 2013, according to the State Plant Board.

Interest in peanuts as an Arkansas crop saw a resurgence in 2010 and strengthened in 2012 after two out-of-state companies - Clint Williams Co. of Madill, Okla., and Birdsong Peanuts of Suffolk, Va., established peanut “buying points” in Pocahontas and Portia, just west of Walnut Ridge.

Business, Pages 23 on 03/25/2014

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