Friday, June 27, 2008

Vacation

Though cell phones and the Internet have made it such that I am never totally on vacation at least I manage when i work while taking time off. I will be off the week of July 4th and then the 7th will be back at it finalizing plans for the Southern Peanut Growers Conference. Be sure to have a safe and happy 4th.

Loan Differentials

I really believe that we are on the road to fixing the loan differential problem in USDA. Under- Secretary Keenum committed to work with the industry on this issue and has since intimated the sincerity of that commitment to Washington Sources. With a unanimous industry position against changing the methodology of determining loan differentials coming out of the American Peanut Council Board Meeting and subsequent letters being sent I am encouraged that things will be worked out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

USA Peanut Congress

The USA Peanut Congress will conclude tonight.

Besides numerous presentations on issues such as the Farm Bill, peanut allergy, foreign market updates, a presentation on the commodity markets, and more, the American Peanut Council Board unanimously passed a motion to oppose changes in the methodology USDA uses to determine loan differentials. This motion had broad support from all industry segments. The President of the APC was directed to send a letter to the USDA expressing the industry position.

Of special note was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Jay Williams, the retired Ag Engineer from USDA and UGA who was instrumental of the hull scrape maturity assessment used to determine harvest timing.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Leaders Program Graduation

We had the final session and graduation for out Syngenta Young Leaders Program Class V.
It is hard to believe that this is the fifth class and in July Class VI will begin. This was the final educational session and we did an update on the farm bill and regulations and then went through an exercise that helps the group understand politics and why sometimes a Congressman may vote in a way that is puzzling to us.
Tonight was the graduation and the farewell but not goodbye to this great group of farmers from Across the South.
These are some pictures of the day's events and tonight's finale.

USDA Meeting Anything but Encouraging

We met with USDA and a host of people from the peanut industry yesterday in Washington and some by a terrible conference call connection. The meeting was anything but encouraging to me that there is an administrative fix to the effort of some in the Department to try to cut the loan rate significantly on 80% of our production.

The meeting which started with USDA saying they never intended to do this for this year...well I felt lied to right off the bat because they sent out a document and also had a meeting with Ag Committee Staffers that said it was already a done deal and then sent out a subsequent notice that they decided not to do it for 2008. At that point I lost what little shred of trust I may have had left in what used to be the "People's Department." That is gone now. It is now the Department that looks out for the best interest of Big Business. If growers are not benefitting then someone else must be and I can assure you it won't be the consumer.

Of special note was the deafening silence of the Shellers on this issue. I guess they think that one more variable just gives them some sort of advantage or something.

Also, the lobbyist for the Manufacturers and the Western Peanut Growers (he is one and the same by the way) informed the Department of an effort to fix this through the Approps Bill in DC. Smart men don't usually tell the enemy their point of attack so I guess the Manufacturers and Western Growers are in cahoots with the Department on this.

They kept saying they wanted input but why didn't they have this dialogue when we were discussing the farm bill. They said in the meeting they have been discussing this concept for about a year.

It is not encouraging that USDA has no clue that there is no place for a grower in the southeast to sell a Virginia Peanut. I guess they want us to destroy what little benefit the VC guys get from the market place because they have been more conservative in their plantings.

Another thing that puzzles me is that they have apparently been taking advice from a rogue county agent that cost our growers a double direct payment for disaster assistance.

The meeting was simply a stall tactic to get us past the Approps mark up but I hope we are not that stupid to believe that the Department will work with the Industry because they haven't since we changed the program and Charles Hatcher left USDA.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Screen on the Green: ET

This 'Screen on the Green' promotion was even bigger and better than the last. The movie tonight was ET and it is the fourth of this year's movie series. Peachtree TV and the folks with Turner Broadcasting are great to work with and the value is phenomenal.
I still have to stop and watch the commercial with a peanut farm family telling our the peanut story from the farm family perspective.
We had our own farm family helping as Donald Chase and son Greg and daughter Laura came and helped hand out peanuts and Reese's Pieces.
Over 10,000 people showed up for the free movie event. Families had picnics, it was quite orderly for a crowd this size, partly because the crowd comes in over a period of hours, starting at about 5:30 and up until the movie starts at a few minutes past 9 PM. 'Screen on the Green' is wholesome family entertainment.






The movies are all good family entertainment and I am really satisfied that with the advertising buy and this on site promotional event we have well gotten our money's worth out of this promotion.
We were fortunate enough to have Hershey's join us in this promotion. They provided 5700 packs of Reese's Pieces to give away. You will remember that in the movie ET fell in love with Reese's Pieces. Frankly, who wouldn't. I went up to one gentleman while handing out samples in the crowd and asked if he had his Reese's Pieces. He pulled a one pound bag out of his picnic basket. I gave him another pack for being so loyal.

One of the best things we can do to promote consumption is to give folks a sample so they remember how much they like peanuts and peanut candy.

I have admit that I have been guilty of buying something in Sam's or Wal-Mart that someone gave me a sample of, even when I knew before I sampled it what it tasted like.
I have been amazed at the crowd this event has drawn.














People were pouring in even as the park was filling up. At showtime There was not much space left at Centennial Park in the Heart of Atlanta. The crowd was multicultural and multi-national but one thing was common: peanuts. One lady from one of the Island Countries came up and told me that our peanuts reminded her of home.

And, what event would be complete without the huggable Buddy McNutty. The National Peanut Board and the Peanut Advisory Board, which represents the Southeastern Growers in Regional and National promotional events? I might be of the belief that this is the best joint promotion we have ever had.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cotton Commission Meeting

Donald Chase and I met with the Georgia Cotton Commission this morning and had a very productive meeting.

We are all seeking ways to work smarter in the face of inflationary pressures on our budgets. We discussed research opportunities and the possibility of going together to the Governor and the Legislature to seek funding for critical research positions.

We are looking at doing a joint research tour for our boards this fall to better understand what research is being conducted and how we might combine some activities or at least make them work in harmony.

The Georgia Cotton Commission members were most conciliatory and have directed Richey to work with me to work out the details on efforts where cooperation is logical.

They also had representatives of their national and regional organizations in attendance at the meeting.

Their crop condition report sounded very similar to that of the Peanut Commission a week earlier.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Welcome Rain

Friday, I visited with a farmer who is being driven crazy by resistant pigweed (Palmer Amaranth). We also discussed the weather, corn irrigation, and a host of other issues.

Thankfully starting last week and to some serious extent on the weekend we got better rainfall around Georgia's Peanut Belt. We were beginning to need it and for the folks that had a few yet to plant after wheat it was a welcome sight.

The weather started out like last year pushing down from the Northwest. These were real storms with Gulf moisture this week and that is what we need to make a peanut crop.

Yesterday, I even got caught in a hail storm. That was not welcome but I don't think widespread either.

The minister at my Church who gave the benediction yesterday prayed for rain and we got it. I guess we will have to keep him around.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Board Meeting

Yesterday started at 7am with our joint legislative committee. The Committee has representatives from Georgia Farm Bureau, the Georgia Peanut Commission, the Georgia Peanut Producers Association, the GFA, and the National Peanut Buying Points Association.

Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duval joined us for the breakfast meeting and updated us on several issues of interest to peanut farmers. He also joined in the discussion on USDA's misguided effort to lower the loan rate on Runner Peanuts by $7. He has gotten American Farm Bureau involved in Washington to work closely with Bob Redding who represents the Commission to put this issue to bed for future years. The decision to start it this year was rescinded by the Department.

President Duval also came to our 9am Board Meeting. This is the first time in 22 years that I recall the President of Georgia Farm Bureau attending a board meeting of the Commission.

He is a man of Faith and integrity and Farm Bureau is truly in good hands with him at the helm.

We finalized the budget at the board meeting and had a lot of reports on activities of the Commission. We had two pretty intense days with all the Committees meeting and passing the annual plan of work and budget.
After lunch an industry grading committee representing all facets of the industry met in our board room to discuss changes int he grading system and current research seeking ways to make peanut grading more accurate and efficient.
Representatives of the National Peanut Lab in Dawson and of UGA both gave reports and sought input.





Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Committee Meetings and the Budget


We had a full day of budget discussions at the Commission today.
Having had essentially the same revenue since the early 80's budgets can be challenging, but not for farmers who spend a great deal of time discussing ways to continue programs more efficiently.
The Commission Board works well together and I am equally blessed with a great staff. I always find myself surrounded by amazing people who have a big heart for the farmer at the Peanut Commission.
This year's budget, though tight, has some new and interesting things in it. We have a lot going on and I am really excited about some of the new activities we have planned. You all know I am an Auburn Tiger but this year I will hunker down with Uga VI to hear the Georgia Peanuts Message on the Georgia Bulldogs Tailgate Show. If the Dawgs will eat peanut butter they might have a chance against those Auburn Tigers.

Farm Bureau Covers Peanuts


Rick Treptow with the Georgia Farm Bureau Media Department took a break from the Tobacco tour to come to the office to discuss peanuts and the recent action by USDA to attempt to cut the support price for peanuts. USDA had rescinded their decision for a year so at least there was a bit of good news. There is still the act of putting this issue totally to rest for us to be satisfied.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Loan Rate Cut

The Department has withdrawn its $7 cut in the loan rate for this year because the political pressure they were receiving. They are having a meeting with industry representatives on June 20th to discuss the issue so it is not dead but is for the year postponed. This has saved growers in the southeast a $7 cut for this year.

We cannot rest on our laurels though. They are still really working this issue and we need to continue pressure to kill it for good.

We still need growers raising sand about it and telling Congress and USDA to stop this. It was never Congress' intent and they need to hammer that point home down the street at USDA.

More Weather

Last night Albany and some areas of the southwest corner of the state got some rain. They also got some serious hail and lightning and wind gusts up to 72 miles per hour. As you would anticipate with that report those areas were not large because the storms were so intense.

The good news is that the current weather pattern has broken up the near to excess 100 degree days and at least the forecast for today is for a high of 94. This may be good news and bad news. 94 is still hot but is it hot enough to set off the lift to get more thunderstorms? It seems like that is the only way we will get rain right now.

We could sure use a general soaking rain.

A side note:

I asked the former Miss Georgia and current meteorologist for Channel 5 in Atlanta at the GAB meeting Friday night if she was a high or low pressure meteorologist. She looked a bit puzzled so I explained my comment. In the midst of a drought a high pressure meteorologist will say, "it's a beautiful day with only a 30% chance of rain." A low pressure meteorologist will say,"we have a 30% chance of rain and we sure need it."

Monday, June 9, 2008

Weather

State Climatologist David Stooksberry last week has predicted a prolonged drought in the southeast. I don't think anyone I have spoken to is surprised by that news. Even the areas which were too wet a week ago (and there were not too many of them) are dry.

Temperatures are really hot for this time of the year. The say they will moderate starting tomorrow. They are also predicting rainfall in the 40 to 50% range. So far this year we haven't worn out any rain gauges at these percents in most places.

Late last week I noticed a big ridge of high pressure sitting over Georgia and they said it would go out to Bermuda. We never get rain when there is a Bermuda High. Apparently there is an upper level low pressure trough over the peninsula of Florida that should help.

Our weather pattern this year so far has been last year amplified. Meaningful rainfall came from the northwest and moved to the southeast. It rained out before it covered much of the peanut belt. This year is a hotter and drier version of that so far.

Also, the planting intentions were determined by USDA prior to the worst of the Spring drought. Farmers were still optimistic. I think a combination of dry weather and cost have combined to trim the dryland acres in Georgia. It may be better to just take prevented planted credit and let the land lay out this year.

For the peanuts that were planted and are up this could be beneficial if it starts raining but it is essentially too late to think about planting dryland at this juncture. One final observation; when the wheat straw in Georgia has a beautiful golden color as it is baled up you know it has been really dry. We haven't even been able to get a good dew in many places.

Travel; an expensive necessity

Travel is critical in the conduct of programs at the Commission just as it is in getting around from farm to farm and to the tractor or fertilizer dealer.


My trip to Atlanta last week to the Georgia Association of Broadcasters annual meeting left my tank on empty. It cost $70 to fill it up. The Crown Victorias we drive at the Commission get about 20 miles or a bit better on the highway. That is pretty good for a car like that. One area the current board has done to save expense is to buddy up and travel together wherever they can. They will meet at a central location and leave vehicles and carpool together. For Staff this has always been an option because we leave from one location.


That fill up and the news this morning that gas will be $5 by July, when our new fiscal year begins, sent a shiver up my spine. We are doing our budget this week and the board has struggled in the past trying to make ends meet. We have had essentially the same income since 1980 when the Commission assessment went to $2 per ton. I am proud to say that we have worked harder and smarter and have made this work. Our programs are some of the best conducted by any commodity organization anywhere. Our representation of our growers is enviable. Other commodity groups give me a hard time all the time about how much better of a deal we get than they do. This is because farmers set the policy and direction and staff gives its all to carry out the wishes of the board.


Let me give you just one example of how this pays. If we are successful in stopping USDA from cutting the loan rate on Runner peanuts by $7, and remember that the posted price to which contracts are tied is directly tied to the loan rate, we will have paid the grower's assessment for three and a half years. Continuing to deliver a positive return on investment is our focus.


Even with budget challenges fostered by increasing costs all around us I feel confident that we will have a great budget plan for the year when the board concludes on Thursday.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

More on GAB

The awards program ran pretty long but I have to admit this is one of the few banquets I have been to that I didn't either fall asleep or want to get up and leave. They had two ladies presenting the winners. One was a daytime radio personality from WSB-FM and the other was the Channel 5 - WAGA weather lady who also has a history doing some ag reporting and is a former Miss Georgia. Her daughter loves peanuts by the way. Broadcast personalities are in the business of keeping people awake and entertained.

The lady sitting next to me was with her husband who was with WAGA. They both used to work at WXIA which is Atlanta's NBC affiliate. AGA is Fox. She is now in Real Estate and a mom that loves peanuts and peanut butter. She told me she had seen our commercials running on Peachtree TV. She said that she had been in promotion at WXIA and that our TV spot was one of the best she had ever seen. It was warm and she said that Rosemary made her feel like they were old friends. If you haven't seen the commercial scroll down a bit further in this blog and there is a little TV where you can click on the arrow and see it. She and her husband couldn't believe that we produced the spot ourselves and were surprised that Rosemary wasn't an actress and that she really did spread the peanut butter herself and it wasn't a hand model. They also asked if the Corte family really farmed?

Lanny Finch who is the President Emeritus of the GAB told me how much they appreciated our support and the peanuts. A message that was repeated to me numerous times. His son Lan who was doing the technical stuff running the PowerPoint and video and audio clips told me that he couldn't live without my farmers. Lannie told me that we would go out of business without him eating as many as he does.

I had a lot of questions about drought, about the crop condition, even about the farm bill. I reminded a lot of people that with it taking about 30 gallons of diesel on average to produce a peanut crop acre and everything else increasing because of energy costs that things are really tight on the farm right now. This message was not lost on a day that the price of crude exceeded $130 a barrel and the Dow fell 400 points.

Georgia Association of Broadcasters

It was a nice evening and I visited with a lot of folks and peanuts were a hit. The Chef did a peanut pie that was similar to a pecan pie but the peanuts were crunchy and it was delicious.


Channel 10 in Albany carried home a lot of awards for Television and a Station out of Augusta received many GABBY's for radio. It was a crowd of about 150 or more, they had to set another table. That is a lot of people in a small business as Broadcasting is. It just covers all of our lives.


I saw Robert Hydrick who won a GABBY award for best Sportscast. We reminisced about the old days when he covered the Peanut Commission. He started with channel 10 right before I started with the Commission.

We also had peanuts for everyone and lapel pins for them to wear. It was a hit. But the most appreciated thing is our peanut gift basket which is their big door prize. They love it.



The winner was Charis Williams of Cartersville. She was there with her friend Kevin Karel from WBHF-AM. Here I am presenting her the basket loaded with everything from breakfast bars to candy to peanuts to novelties promoting peanuts.

Look for this picture again in the Southeastern Peanut Farmer Magazine.






Friday, June 6, 2008

Georgia Association of Broadcasters

The Georgia Association of Broadcasters is meeting today and tomorrow in Marietta. We sponsor a peanut dessert at their Awards Banquet and give away a gift basket loaded with peanut products. The folks are really nice and are appreciative of our participation. I want to use this as an opportunity to remind them the importance of the farmer and to share with them some of the challenges farmers face each day.

Loan Differentials

I am not yet sure that farmers have figured out that they need to be screaming bloody murder. The Department has just made this change and it makes absolutely no sense. Yet, a USDA Assistant Secretary yesterday told Congressional Staffers that farmers support the move, it is just the grower associations that are causing him problems.

Farmers need to call the Secretary of Agriculture and their Congressman and Senators and let them know that we don't support a $7 cut in our price. Contracts are based on loan rate. Cut the loan and the contract price tied to the repayment rate will also go down.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why the Concern Over Differentials

The Concern over Floyd Gaibler's disastrous differential proposal should not be take lightly by anyone.

The current system of differentials is longstanding and was arrived at with great consternation in the peanut industry. To say that there were differential fights in the old days might be an understatement. An agreement was reached and it has worked for decades and is not at all broken. Why then does Floyd Gaibler seem to want to turn the apple cart upside down? What will be the result?

I cannot answer the first question, though I will say that Floyd has been the most difficult man I have ever dealt with in the USDA.

The answer to the second question is much easier. If you choose to support 81% of the US Peanut Crop at $7 below the loan rate and then push Spanish, Virginia, and Valencia peanuts significantly higher than the loan the differential becomes significant. Growers in Georgia can grow any of those varieties. University numbers show that we have a $70 advantage in producing Virginia peanuts over the VC.

Don't laugh at that prospect. In the 90's the Planters buyer got irritated at the VC leadership and came to Georgia and contracted more acres of Virginias in Georgia than there were in Virginia. That would not at all be hard now. Is that what we need to do? Absolutely not but economics will dictate such shifts. And with a high price for Spanish as has been proposed our guys could manage a real issue that has been of concern, late cotton plantings which some blame for a slight decline in cotton fiber quality. We need to plant some Georgia Browne seed to get the increase going. Problem is who then will supply those Jumbo Runners? And we can grow Georgia Reds and do pretty well in the Valencia market too.

Remember that prices paid are tied to the loan rate. Reduce the differential for Runners and we need to grow something else.

So next year in Georgia we buy up all the non-runner seed varieties we can. Let's just flood the market. What runners we do grow will be in short supply and will bring a premium price. Mr. Farmer don't contract your runners. And the other peanuts are supported at a higher price so the price has to be higher no matter what. Of course we will help drive the price of the other types down and maybe that will go ahead and put the VC and Oklahoma out of business.

Hey this might be sounding like a good idea?

Wait! What if USDA then flips the differentials? Man, now we need to find some runner seeds and plant them. That will even push the price of runner seed up now. That will help the seed producer, right? Hey, we can push up non-runner seed prices all across the country short term under the USDA proposal? Under the US Proposal for everyone to be supported at $355 you would have to have equal quantities of each type of peanut. Is that good for our industry. Doesn't the market largely determine what we plant?

Do you get the feeling this is like a yo yo on a string?

The Peanut Shellers expressed their opposition for ONE year. I cannot see why they didn't just say no but they have a hard time doing that.

The manufacturers see this as a way to get cheap peanuts but they have not looked at what will really happen. They haven't decided yet to comment but will likely stay silent.

As an industry we need to look at what volatility in price and supply, not just total supply but supply among types will do. This is an all around bad proposal.

We don't want to see other farmers get out of producing peanuts. We don't want to see uncertainty. We need to have stability in the peanut world for a while. USDA will undo all of that with a stroke of a pen if they do this, not to mention that they just cut the price that is going to be paid this year on 81% of the peanuts produced int he US. We need peanut production over a broad distribution to manage the vagaries of weather and to keep a broad base for political support.

Now are you going to contact your Senators and Congressman?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Washington Update -- Screen on the Green

Washington



We continue to fight this proposal by USDA to lower the loan rate differential for runner type peanuts. We have been working to energize farmers to make contacts through the use of our American Peanuts web site. We have also been in contact with the Georgia Congressional Delegation on this issue. Because contracts are tied to loan rate this could really hurt every one of our growers.





Screen on the Green



We are running a commercial and have other activities tied to Screen on the Green. The next movie we are sponsoring is ET on June 19. The folks with Hershey's have agreed to supply us with Reese's Pieces for the audience. Reese's Pieces are made with our runner peanuts.


video


Also, Peachtree TV will be running this promo spot the week before ET.



video

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Screen on the Green



Last week we did this promotion in Atlanta. Peachtree TV which shows classic movies, goes to Centennial Park and for five Thursday nights they show a movie out on the lawn. This was the first week and the movie was Jaws. I was amazed at the size of the crowd. About 7000 people showed up. Along with the chance to exhibit and hand out samples we also got an ad on the screen and TV commercials on the Braves games. We will be doing another on June 19th with the showing of ET. You may remember if you saw the movie that ET liked Reese's Pieces.


Buddy McNutty and the folks from the National Peanut Board were also there as this was a co-promotion we did with them and the growers in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.













Jeff Johnson with Peachtree TV was the Emcee for the evening and really hammered home the peanut message from the podium before the movie. The crowd started arriving at 5:30 for the movie at 9 PM. Jeff is an avid peanut lover.



























The crowd only grew as dark arrived and the show started.




First Day

This is the first day this blog has been online.

I want to use it to pass on critical and interesting information to growers and others of interest.

A bit issue has come up as of late last Friday, the USDA has decided they don't like the peanut program that Congress passed in the 2007 farm bill which just passed last week and so they are trying to cut the loan rate on runner peanuts by $7. I cannot understand how they came up with supporting 81% of the US crop below the loan rate. We are in a kill mode right now to stop this foolish proposal. Because contracts are tied to loan rates this could cost our farmers nearly ten dollars a ton. That not only hurts farmers but also the economy of rural south Georgia. It is tens of millions of dollars lost for us. Farmers need to contact their Senators and Congressmen and tell them not to let USDA run wild.