Three truckloads of peanut butter are headed to the hungry survivors of Haiti’s earthquake, with a portion donated by Mississippi peanut growers.
The Peanut Butter for Haiti project was initiated by Early County 2055, a non-profit organization in Georgia, but the program quickly spread to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The Mississippi Peanut Growers’ Association is part of efforts that had generated $100,000 in donation pledges as of the end of January.
“Peanut butter is portable, nonperishable and a very good source of protein,” said Malcolm Broome, executive director of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association. “It is the perfect food in a situation like this since it does not have to be refrigerated, does not require cooking and delivers a nutritional punch that is life-sustaining.”
Broome said the state organization has previously donated to local food banks, but members were happy to have this opportunity to help those suffering in Haiti, too.
The participating states’ peanut associations joined forces to purchase processed and packaged peanut butter from Tara Foods (Kroger) and ConAgra (Peter Pan). The J.M. Smucker Company also made a donation.
Four truckloads of peanut butter have been shipped to Haiti, each containing 130,000 12-ounce jars of the food. The first load was delivered Jan. 22 aboard the USS Sacagawea and is being distributed through Operation Blessing. More donated peanut butter is being delivered to Miami for transfer to Haiti.
Mike Howell, peanut specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said when the quota system was lifted from peanuts in 2002, state production jumped from 2,500 acres to just over 20,000 acres in 2009.
“When the quota system was lifted, that really opened the door for a lot more Mississippi growers to get into peanuts,” Howell said. “We now have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a major peanut-producing state.”
About 60 percent of the state’s peanuts are grown in south Mississippi and about 30 percent in north Mississippi around Aberdeen. The remaining acres are found mostly in the Delta, Howell said.
“I am constantly on the road talking about peanuts and helping farmers figure out what they need to do in their crops,” he said.
Though 2009 was a good year for U.S. peanut production, Mississippi had its challenges. “We ended up losing about 2,000 acres of peanuts because of the wet weather,” Howell said. “We lost a little yield on the remaining acres.” The 2009 production was about 1.5 tons of peanuts per acre, which is an average yield for the state. Weather and growing conditions met perfectly in 2008 to generate production of 2 tons per acre, a yield Howell said may never be seen again.
Peanut production was valued at $12 million in the state in 2009.