The pieces of the puzzle lacking a few years ago now seem to be coming together for a small group of growers organizing an effort to establish an organic peanut industry in the country's leading peanut state.
The Georgia Organic Peanut Association launched last year. Chad Heard, a Baker County grower, is one of the founding members, along with Ronny Shingler in Early County, of the cooperative. The Heard family has a long history in the peanut business in Georgia. Several years ago he tried organic peanuts. The timing wasn't right. It is now, he says.
From one of his organic peanut fields, Heard talks about the business, the recipe and more with Brad Haire, Farm Press senior content director.
Four years ago, he said, Georgia may have had four acres of organic peanuts being grown. Under GOPA this year, growers planted 500 acres. Heard planted 60 acres.
"About 12 or 14 years ago, we grew some organic peanuts with some old varieties, but we had nowhere to process them or take them. So, it wasn't feasible to try and do that. This time, last year, a group of us who have tried organic peanuts got together and decided to form a co-op and become a peanut handler," he said.
The co-op has the approved certifications in line to handle the peanuts, from shelling to blanching and cold storage. "So, we have all the parts now coming together … We're seeing a marked increase in demand since people were finding out about us. We get a lot of interest every week. People wanting to buy peanuts and organic. I think the timing's perfect now," he says.
Organic peanuts are more labor intensive, and approved inputs are limited but available, he said. The premium price organic peanuts can bring from an already interested market makes the effort worth it on the bottom line.