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Interview with the National Peanut Board

As the world’s third-biggest peanut producer, U.S. peanut farmers hold a definite role in both the country’s economy and its consumers. Inspired by their own responsibility, and the love for peanuts, American farmers from the major peanut-producing states joined forces to create a program with a solid and clear vision. Established in 1999, the National Peanut Board is a farmer-funded group committed to helping peanut farmers to improve production practices through research. Also, through research funding, the program contributes indirectly to the development of more sustainable varieties with high yields and sourcing food allergy solutions. In this interview, Keegan Treadaway, marketing and communications associate with the N.P.B., gives us an overview of America’s peanut production and comments on the latest studies and trends in the subject.

Can you tell us about some of the latest groundbreaking studies funded by the N.P.B.?

K.T. The Board has contributed millions of dollars toward both production research and food allergy research since its inception. Some of the outcomes that have resulted from production research funding include new peanut varieties that are resistant to disease and pests, as well as the mapping of the peanut genome which will help peanut breeders with marker-assisted breeding to more quickly produce sustainable varieties without using genetic modification. More recently, the Board is investing in research to reduce water use and develop more drought-tolerant seed varieties.

In terms of food allergy research, the Board contributed to the groundbreaking research study known as Learning Early About Peanuts (L.E.A.P.), which changed the paradigm in infant feeding around the world, by encouraging parents to feed peanut foods to infants early to help prevent peanut allergy. As a result of that research, the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as well as the world’s leading health organizations, have issued new guidelines on early peanut introduction. The Board is now focusing on research that looks into improving diagnostic tools for peanut allergy.

How is the consumer’s perception of peanut nowadays? Have the way people used to think about peanut changed?

K.T. Americans still love peanuts and peanut butter. In fact, a recent consumer survey that the National Peanut Board commissioned found that peanuts are the preferred nut among millennial consumers. How people eat peanuts has changed, though. Many consumers are now eating peanuts in the form of snack products (like energy bars, trail mix, granola) because they’re portable so that you can eat them on the go. Peanut butter has also seen a gradual shift toward snack products with major brands launching more convenience foods featuring peanut butter as an ingredient.

Who are the major peanut-producing American states today?

K.T. There are 11 major-peanut producing states in the U.S.— Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Peanuts are also produced in Louisiana and Missouri. This year’s peanut crop is estimated to be about 2.46 million tons according to U.S.D.A., which is a little lower than some previous years. But yields have continued to rise with the average yield at over 4,000 tons per acre.

What is the biggest challenge peanut farmers face today? How can the Board help them to overcome it?

K.T. Probably the greatest challenge that peanut farmers—and all farmers—face is being able to sustain the farming operation and maintain a profit year-after-year. The National Peanut Board’s investment in production research will hopefully continue to lead to advances that can help increase yields without having to increase inputs. That means if a farmer can plant a crop that can yield more without having to increase the amount of resources like water to grow the crop, then they are ultimately saving on the cost of production and improving their bottom line.

What are the latest trends in the peanut industry at national and global levels? 

K.T. Sustainability is the fastest growing trend that we’ve seen on the national level (and really across the world). As more consumers incorporate sustainability into their lives, they are going to look for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. Major brands are already making changes to become more sustainable. Just look at the sudden growth of plant-based meat alternatives that are now available at chain restaurants across the country. Peanuts have an excellent sustainability story since they give back to the soil through nitrogen-fixation, and require significantly less water to grow than other nuts. They also offer more plant-based protein than other nuts. The Board is going to continue to promote the positive peanut sustainability story as it continues to be of interest to consumers.

To know more about the National Peanut Board, visit: https://www.nationalpeanutboard.org