Peanut Tour was reminder of my youth

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It was like a funeral procession led by two giant buses. The line of cars stretched as far as I could see. No time of sadness here, though, as I was watching the arrival of the 2011 Georgia Peanut Tour in Donalsonville.

Peanuts have been part of my life since the day I was born. It has been more than 100 years since my great-grandfather paid farmers to plant peanuts to feed to pigs. Sixty-five years ago my grandfather moved to Cottonwood, Ala., to buy a peanut mill. Thirty-five years ago, my father, along with Sessions Company, bought a shelling plant in Donalsonville and that is what brought me to my beloved southwest Georgia.

After four generations in the peanut business, it was my brother and I that decided to move in a different direction. Just over a quarter of a century ago we sold Beall Peanut Company, but retained our love of the peanut and all things related to that business.

So it was with great anticipation that I attended my first Georgia Peanut Tour, not as a sheller, processor or farmer, but as a newspaperman. The camera on my shoulder was not just to capture the latest farming techniques, equipment and processes, but also to capture the industry leaders that had come from around the world to our part of Georgia to see the best of the best in the peanut industry.

I must admit that I retain my love for many of the things I remember about peanuts. The smell of a freshly-plowed field still brings back a flood of memories. I have seen the dust rising from our dry earth as the crop is being harvested yet another year.

The small wooden trailers of my youth have given way to first elongated trailers and now semi-trailers as farmers have become more and more efficient about bringing the harvest to market.

The dryers and warehouses that were so much a part of my family’s early success are now often owned by farmers and cooperatives. Everything from the planters and plows to the pickers has become larger, making the small family farm of my youth nearly extinct. There is no way the sharecroppers that my grandfather financed could ever afford the mighty equipment of today.

But as powerful as my memories of the farmer of the 50 years ago may be, it was my visit to LMC and American Peanut Grower Group’s shelling plant that captured my interest.

The few workers at LMC were the only people I knew when I moved here in the mid-seventies. I have visited their plant a hundred times over the years as we built shelling plants and grew together. However, it had been years since I actually toured their facility.

Likewise, it had been years since I had been in a working shelling plant. APGG has a world class facility that has adapted to the demands for food safety and quality products.

My grandfather’s first shelling plant could fit in the holding bins of APGG. My father’s first shelling plant could fit easily in the storage portion of the current APGG building.

The first and only shelling plant I built was state-of-the-art for its time, but doesn’t hold a candle to the plants here in southwest Georgia that all produce products that are the envy of the peanut world.

The exceptional companies in this industry are not limited to Seminole County. Decatur County acted as the main host for this tour and showcased much of the finest the industry has to offer.

Dollar Farm Products and Barber Fertilizer Company have both been leaders in so many of the different ways that agriculture touches this part of Georgia.  Jerry and Justin Long, along with the University of Georgia, demonstrated the way modern production is done. My friend, Glenn Heard, is so far removed from the small farmer bringing in a thousand pounds of peanuts across our old wooden scales that you can’t really make any comparison.

Miller and Early counties both entertained and demonstrated to our visitors that this is indeed one of the centers of the peanut universe.

How interesting it is that more than a quarter century after I walked away from the peanut industry, it continues to still be an important part of my life. Peanuts put money on the table for people to buy burgers and biscuits. Peanuts furnish money to buy ads in this paper. As a cash crop, they have allowed this rural economy to survive.

You don’t have to plant or shell peanuts to realize that this crop remains the most powerful part of our economy. The Georgia Peanut Tour helped this old peanut guy realize that is more true than ever here in Georgia. Well done and thanks to all the companies in southwest Georgia that make this the peanut capital of the world.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@donalsonvillenews.com.