Peanuts overseas

Published 5:16 pm Friday, October 14, 2016

dsc_2939There are 1.3 billion people in China.

Despite its gargantuan population and ranking as the world’s largest producer of peanuts, the demand for the shelled food is high, and supply is low.

Enter the U.S.

Email newsletter signup

If you zoomed into Southwest Georgia on Wednesday evening, right here in Bainbridge on peanut farmer Andy Bell’s Flint River-side property, you’d see 50 Chinese peanut buyers eating fried catfish and hushpuppies for the first time. Visiting to tour local farms, shelling plants and buying points, the foreigers were taking a break from business and tasting South Georgia cuisine at its finest.

“Everybody likes to have a good time,” Bell said. “They aren’t here just for business. We gave them a little hayride down here, and they may not have seen cattle grazing in the fields before.”

Dinner included fried catfish caught on the Flint River earlier that day, sweet potatoes harvested that morning by farmer Jerry Long, Georgia grown pickles and homemade slaw. Topped off with cold drinks and a light-hearted atmosphere, the peanut buyers got to see, and taste, firsthand what life is like around the peanut fields they want to purchase from.

“When we do tours, not only do we show them the peanut business, we show them a little taste of Southwest Georgia culture and food,” said Stephanie Grunenfelder, senior vice president for the American Peanut Council.

The APC facilitates visits between foreign countries and the U.S. throughout the year. Just in September, Southwest Georgia peanut farmers were in Qingdao, China for a conference. Now the buyers are here, getting a look at the food their country can’t seem to get enough of.

According to Grunenfelder, U.S. peanuts are considered the highest quality peanut in the world, compared to other origins. China grows a Virginia-type peanut, large kernels that have more of a crunch. The peanuts grown in Georgia are runner-type, softer and more appropriate to turn into peanut butter. China is using them for oil, which can be heated to high temperatures and used in many different of the country’s dishes.

Bell hopes to get buyers like the ones he hosted to purchase more for edible use, too.

“When you have 1.3 billion people, that’s a lot of peanuts,” Bell said. “A lot of the peanuts that go to China are used for cooking oil. There isn’t that much edible in china, but we want the oil and the edible, too.”

China’s demand for more peanuts occurred as a result of the citizens gaining more affluence and wanting better food, Grunenfelder said. Combine that with the competitive price of U.S. peanuts, and buyers are interested in bringing in more. The U.S. already sells half of all its peanut exports to China, Grunenfelder said.

The Chinese buyers and their families stayed at Hampton Inn in Bainbridge.