He said exports were down by 17.5 percent in 2010 but are up 12.2 percent in 2011. “The strength of the dollar is a factor,” he said. The 2010 export market was $341 million. Canada, Mexico, Europe and Japan are key customers for U.S. peanuts.

Aiding U.S. export projections is China’s decision to keep more peanuts in country. “China will be a net importer,” Spearman said. “Recently, if China offered peanuts for export they were at a high price.”

Argentina is the primary competitor in the peanut export market.

Spearman said efforts are underway to convince the U.S. government to increase purchase of peanuts for school lunch and other programs. “We’re also trying to get more peanut butter into food banks.”

A new product, Plumpy Nut, uses peanut butter as a key ingredient to help severe and moderate nutrition problems in Haiti, Malawi and possibly West Africa. “Plumpy Nut saves lives,” Spearman said.

He said efforts to deal with peanut allergy includes from $3 million to $4 million in research funds to identify the “root causes.”

He said the peanut industry is cooperating with the Food and Drug Administration to assure safe peanut products following recent contamination issues.

“Peanuts are now checked intensively,” Spearman said. “We have competed a ‘kill step’ study” to show that proper management practices will eliminate pathogens. He said the problem in a Georgia facility several years ago was a sanitation issue instead of contaminated peanuts.

Spearman said some factors favor peanuts over other crop options this spring. “Fertilizer costs favor peanuts. Problems with resistant pigweed in other crops also favor peanuts,” he said.

Contract fulfillment obligations also favor peanut over other crop options. For peanut contracts, farmers do not have to deliver.