Production of peanuts has been increasing in South Carolina for nearly 20 years and soon the state’s growers will have someone representing their interests to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Under a bill which passed the House of Representatives Tuesday, South Carolina will have a seat on the the Department of Agriculture’s Peanut Standards Board. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-SC, sponsored the measure.
Bamberg peanut farmer and South Carolina Peanut Board chairman Richard Rentz called the decision “a red-letter day for South Carolina.”
“There’s tremendous growth,” he said. “When the national standards board was set up, we had 8,000 to 10,000 acres in South Carolina. And now we have more than ten times that amount. We’ll have 120,000-130,000 acres this year. So it’s the growth in South Carolina that’s forced them to recognize us.”
The Peanut Standards Board makes recommendations to the Department of Agriculture regarding the grading of peanut quality, which determines their price, and standards for handling.
“The grading of peanuts makes a vast difference in what a producer receives for his peanuts,” Rentz said. “So, by having this seat on there, at least we have a say, in recognizing that South Carolina is prominent now in the peanut industry. Whereas 20 years ago, we were not.”
The Peanut Standards Board was established in the 2002 farm bill. It consists of 18 members who represent three regions: the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia), the Southwest (New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), and Virginia/North Carolina. Each region is represented with three producer seats and three industry representative seats, and members serve staggered three year terms. By law, members of the Peanut Standards Board must be from a state in one of the three designated regions.
Rentz said the position will be a good opportunity for South Carolina peanut growers.
“Peanuts are a very big part of it,” he said of their contribution to the state’s agricultural economy. “They prove to be an excellent rotational crop for some crops that are already growing and have really helped a lot of farms.
Rentz said when the quota system was abolished in 2002, more and more South Carolina farmers started planting peanuts. Acreage planted in peanuts has grown tremendously since then.
“Peanuts have moved to places with the best climate, the best soils and, quite frankly, the best producers and that’s a natural fit for South Carolina.”
Wilson says South Carolina is the nation’s fourth-largest peanut producing state. Eight percent of the nation’s peanuts come from South Carolina.
The bill must still be approved by the Senate.