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Peanut promotion board works to reverse trends

To promote and expand existing markets, develop new markets and facilitate the economical production of high quality U.S. peanuts."

With this as its stated mission, the National Peanut Board for Promotion and Research has begun the difficult task of helping U.S. peanut producers rebound from several years of poor market conditions, difficult growing conditions and a stagnant demand for their product.

"Neither I, nor any of the other representatives on this board take this charge lightly," says Murray Campbell, the Camilla, Ga., grower who serves as chairman of the National Peanut Board.

The board is the culmination of more than two years of difficult negotiations among 20 grower groups from thoughout the Peanut Belt.

"This was no small feat," says Campbell. "In Georgia alone, we had three different groups at the table - the Georgia Peanut Commission, the Georgia Peanut Producers Association and the Georgia Farm Bureau. But after all the dust had settled, growers voted last summer to approve the board."

Campbell, who grows about 1,500 acres of peanuts and cotton, was elected as the Georgia representative to the board by his fellow producers and then elected chairman at the board's inaugural meeting held this past March.

"Our timing was bad because we got caught up in a USDA cross-review of all existing promotion boards. But finally, after some extensive background checks, all of us were appointed to the board. I told the other representatives that I would be glad to serve as chairman as long as I could look over my shoulder and see all of them standing behind me," he says.

Each primary peanut-producing state is represented on the board by one member and an alternate. The minor peanut-producing states are represented by one at-large producer and alternate.

The biggest challenge facing the board, says Campbell, also offers the greatest potential for success. "The first challenge we're facing is frustration. It took us a long time to get to this point. Agriculture in general, and especially peanut farming, is in an absolute depression. And, we've got another terrible crop this year.

"Times are tough, and 25,000 peanut growers across the nation have limited money to invest in state boards, private organizations and our new National Board. We must work together to get the best bang for our buck. Peanut growers are digging deep in their pockets to fund their National Board for Promotion and Research."

The board and its activities are funded by an assessment equal to 1 percent of the total value of all farmer stock peanuts, and it's expected that approximately $10 million will be collected annually.

"We have been entrusted to invest this 1 percent of production value, and it must be invested wisely to insure a future for our growers. Everyone wants to see quick results, but we ask that growers just give us a little time. It's like setting up a new business, and the decisions made during the start-up phase will be with us for a long time."

Almost $10 million sounds like a lot of money, says Campbell, but it won't buy a lot of Super Bowl ads or last very long if the board isn't careful with how the money is spent. "Promotion boards can be very successful, but they have be careful, deliberate and independent."

The board has approved its first budget of $19.7 million, covering a 15-month period and including the 1 percent assessment from both the 1999 and 2000 crops, says Campbell.

The board has allocated $3.86 million for research at the state and regional level; $3 million for export promotion; $8.65 million for domestic promotion; $1.35 million for reserves; $250,000 for producer communication programs; and the remainder for accounting, legal, administrative, USDA services, collection and compliance services and unallocated research and contingency projects.

"The board has reviewed more than 90 promotional proposals and 44 research proposals," says Campbell. "A start-up campaign already is underway that includes a website, magazine advertising, in-store promotions and posters, media tours and cooperative promotions with the March of Dimes. These programs are being implemented by three existing industry promotional groups - the Virginia-Carolina Peanut Promotions, the Peanut Advisory Board and the Thacker Group."

In addition, the board has hired the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather to direct a national promotion campaign, he says. This campaign, he adds, will be very targeted, and consumers should start seeing the results after the first of the year.

Recommendations for research projects are made by the individual state boards, says Campbell.

At the board's November meeting, it'll review candidates for the executive director's position, he continues. "After an extensive city search, the board has decided to locate the office of the National Peanut Board in the greater Atlanta area. We also looked at Dallas, Raleigh, Charlotte and Memphis, but Atlanta was the heavy favorite."

Even though the board's headquarters will be located in Atlanta, the board will continue to hold meetings throughout the Peanut Belt, says Campbell.

Unity equals success Another challenge facing the new board is putting all of the differences of the past behind it, says Campbell. "The different points made by people during the creation of the board are now history. We are a national board - we're U.S. peanut growers - and I've been very impressed by the willingness of this board to work together.

"We all have been elected to represent different states, and the board has a great diversity of opinion. And, these differences will be expressed. We're singing off the same sheet of music. But if everyone sang the same note, it would be boring. Once the decisions are made, however, and the music is written, we all need to be singing the same song. If we don't, then the growers need to elect themselves a new board."

The board can provide leadership to the peanut industry by working with all segments, including growers, shellers and manufacturers, notes Campbell.

"We need the support of all of the state grower associations and all segments of the industry. Sooner or later, we'll make a choice or decision that someone doesn't agree with. But give us a chance. Explain your thoughts and positions and educate us.

"The industry needs to support and build up this new board. If this happens, then unity will occur, and that will be the source of our greatest success. We need to provide an atmosphere of cooperation that will be a rallying point.

"We have enough real enemies - aflatoxin, the allergy issue, water shortages and tomato spotted wilt virus. Growers must be united in our efforts to confront these profit-robbing enemies. Together, we can rise to the challenge and sell more peanuts at home and throughout the world."

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