In the next 50 years, the U.S. peanut industry can expect more consumer interest in sustainability, more pressure on environmental stewardship, more innovation and increased emphasis on efficiency across the production supply chain, said four knowledgeable panelists speaking at the 51st annual meeting of the American Peanut Research and Education Society (APRES) July 10 in Auburn, Ala.
“But peanut farmers are not likely to make more money,” sums up Georgia farmer Donald Chase, who shared the stage with Dr. Chris Liebold, J.M. Smuckers Co.; Karl Zimmer, Premium Peanut; and John Bennett, Mars.
Sustainability and more consumer interest in how and where food is produced found support from several panelists.
“Transparency and use of big data will be important,” said Liebold. He explained that the blockchain process — taking all available data and linking it together to provide consumers more information about the food they eat — will be a key.
“They want to know where their food is produced,” he said. He cited studies that show consumers more likely to buy products that come with more information.
He added that sustainability pressure may become even more aggressive as propositions such as the recent New Green Deal become more accepted in the next half century as people see potential for “more plastic than fish,” in the oceans.
Liebold noted that packaging will change from “a box in a box in a box” to reduced packaging and less plastic.
“Smuckers is striving for zero waste and a smaller carbon footprint.”
Chase, in a presentation titled “Probably, Possibly and Unlikely: Agriculture in 2069,” said consumer scrutiny will increase and that water conservation will be “one of the greatest challenges, worldwide.”
He also noted more pressure on chemical compounds, “old and new.”
“Traceability and sustainability will continue,” Zimmer said.
Products will change, panelists agreed.
“Personalized health will play a role,” Liebold said. “DNA information is being sold to drug companies and will be used to create better drugs.” He said that same information will be used to create “designer food, based on a person’s DNA. It’s already begun, and we will see food designed to help fight cancer, diabetes and other diseases. It’s our challenge to handle the data.”
Gene editing will play a role, he said. “Gene editing is not regulated since it comes from the plant itself, but it can still change the plant DNA. In 50 years we will see a breakthrough.”
Chase says in the next 50 years genetically modified peanuts are “possible, but not necessarily from U.S. research. We have no control beyond U.S. borders.”
He also believes peanuts will possibly “play a major role in an increased demand for plant-based protein.” He lists peanut’s role as possible instead of probable because of competition form other products, soy, for instance.
“Designer peanuts are possible,” he added. “If a food company needs a special kind of peanut, we should be able to produce it.”
Liebold says consumers will find new ways to buy products. “Click and collect,” he said, “is already available. Consumers order food online. For example, consumers know what brand of peanut butter they want, so they can order it from Amazon.”
New foods, too, will be available. Lab-grown meat, he said, may not be trendy for farmers, “but it’s a trend to follow.”
Bennett said innovation also may increase peanut demand. He recalled recently trying a strawberry that tasted like a peach. “We may not want a peach peanut, but we may want to consider a different eating experience in peanuts. What are the options?”
Maintaining quality poses another challenge.
“A lot of things necessary to support peanuts in the next 50 years need to begin today,” said Zimmer.
Maintaining quality, he added, should be a high priority if U.S. peanuts compete with India and other major producers.
“It is interesting to see how we destroy peanut value as we move from one segment of the supply chain to the next. We have work to do today to protect value in the supply chain.”
He said the current grading system is not adequate to reward the high quality reputation of U.S. peanuts. “U.S. quality is not recognized going into the European market. They enter the EU market the same as peanuts from India.”
Zimmer said a lof of “conflicting objectives,” within the supply chain restrict efficiency and the ability to maintain quality.
“Growers need economic viability,” he said. “We need growers to be profitable and need for them to maximize value.”
Concerns include drying issues, splits, and grades. “The USDA grade has not been updated in 50 years. That’s unacceptable.”
Continuation of supply
Bennett said continuation of supply poses a significant concern as the world population moves toward 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. “We’re at 7.7 billion today, so we are looking at 25 percent more people.”
Bennett is concerned with sourcing. Mars sources from seven origins across the globe and maintains 11 roasting sites, four in North America.
Crop failure risks top his list of concerns. He said 70 percent of the U.S. peanut production occurs in the Southeast. Weather events, such as hurricanes, threaten a large segment of annual U.S. production, making it necessary for the other regions to step up production of high-quality peanuts. “Crop failure is an issue worldwide,” he added. “Drought or too much water can affect sourcing. A lot of variability exists in the U.S. and globally.”
He also noted that quality issues threaten supply. Contamination, including aflatoxin, heavy metals, pesticides and processing contaminants affect sourcing. Aflatoxin is a big one. “Aflatoxin can be a significant challenge to Southeast peanuts some years. In 2010, 22 percent of the crop tested positive for aflatoxin. That’s a significant loss.”
Globally, the situation is much worse, with 47 percent of the global supply failing to meet EU specifictions because of aflatoxin contaminations.
Bennett said heavy metals are not a problem in peanuts but are in chocolate, meaning a potential issue in peanut and chocolate mix products.
Pesticide contamination is a global problem. “The U.S. does an incedible job of preventing pesticide contamination,” he said. “That’s a competitive advantage. U.S. producers should continue doing that good work, but we also need to educate the rest of the world.”
He said processing contamination often results from high processing temperatures. “We need to understand how to control that.”
Bennett posed a number of “what if” questions regarding the next 50 years and admitted that thinking about the future “excites me. What if,” he asked, “we had one regulatory standard for compliance? And what if we work together to solve problems, such as plastic contamination?”
Zimmer offered four solutions to supply chain challenges.
1.Reward farm (and buying point and sheller) actions that add end-market value.
2. Implement actions that preserve end-market value at every step.
3. Improve efficiency (i.e, new grading equipment and processes).
4. Link grading and incentives to total supply chain value.
Cost of production
Chase said his prediction that peanut farmers making more money is unlikely hangs on the continuing high cost of production versus low commodity prices and increasing risk. “It’s a challenge. We have to have technology and if are not profitable, how can we invest in the latest technology? How much more risk can we take? I can’t see us making more money in 50 years.”
He also says significant changes in the farm bill over the next 50 years are unlikely.
“Things do not look really good for farmers. But, when things look really good, they probably will not be that good. And when things look really bad, they probably will not be that bad.”
He added that the industry has a lot of work to do but noted that it had been done before.
“From 1969 through 2000, peanut yields averaged 2,500 pounds per acre. In 2018, a lot of Georgia farms averaged 7,000. That’s thanks to work by current members of APRES and your p