Earlier this year, Richard Owen became the new president and CEO of the American Peanut Council, taking the helm after the retirement of Patrick Archer, who led the council for many decades. In December, Owen met with Farm Press to discuss the council’s leadership role in the industry and where APC efforts are being focused as the industry looks to expand its footprint globally, while remaining one of America’s favorite foods.
What does the American Peanut Council do for the industry?
Owen: APC serves the entire U.S. peanut supply chain by bringing together growers, shellers, manufacturers and allied industry to address common challenges. APC has been in existence for over 80 years and provides a forum and unified voice to ensure the long-term growth of the U.S. peanut industry.
What are some of the top-level issues APC plans to tackle in 2022?
Owen: One of the core strengths of the APC is to help grow export markets for U.S. peanuts. In 2020, we hit record of 33% of the U.S. crop being exported. The export volume fluctuates a little each year. But the trend over the past ten years is clear: Exports are an increasingly important contributor to growers’ bottom line.
Another important priority is documenting and telling the sustainability story of peanuts. The U.S. peanut industry has a great story to tell, and we will be launching an initiative that has active engagement and support from the entire supply chain.
The industry has been dealing with ongoing technical barriers to trade into some key exports like Europe and Japan. The APC has added technical and trade expertise to address issues such as aflatoxin, pesticide maximum residue limits and heavy metals. These challenges cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales each year.
In times of crisis, it's important to have a go-to source where the industry can speak with one voice. That was a strength that APC brought to the industry during the 2009 salmonella incident, and we will continue to prepare for unforeseen challenges that come our way.
(EDTOR’S NOTE: More than 13 years ago, a salmonella occurrence shook the peanut industry. Responsible parties were held accountable. The U.S. peanut industry responded and recovered its reputation as one of America’s go-to food sources.)
What are some of the goals you have set for the council over the next few years?
Owen: Continuing to grow new markets for U.S. peanuts is a priority for the industry, and in turn, APC. That comes from better coordination and sharing of information about how we can improve the crop that is delivered at each point in the supply chain. Delivering the safest, highest quality peanuts in the world will help the industry take advantage of growing consumer interest in nutritious, plant-based protein solutions.
You don’t come from a peanut-specific background.
Owen: No, but I come with over 25 years of experience working with growers and agricultural associations as diverse as wheat, barley, fruits, vegetables and livestock. I grew up working on farms in southern Virginia that reflect a similar culture, commitment and entrepreneurship that I have found in my new peanut family.
Why did you choose work in the peanut industry, especially in this high-leadership position?
Owen: There is great optimism in the agriculture industry, even in periods of temporary downturn. I've left the industry a couple of times but came back because of the people. It's more than a way of making a living, but of connecting and improving the production system for the next generation. The peanut industry epitomizes that attitude and outlook. With the APC, I saw an opportunity to build tighter connections between the industry segments, bring some efficiency in setting supply chain priorities and elevate the overall positive narrative of the U.S. peanut industry.