The core goal of the National Peanut Board is “improving grower economics, and developing ways to accomplish that,” says Bob Parker, the organization's new president and chief executive officer.

“The priority of that goal is to increase consumption of peanuts domestically and internationally,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association at Hattiesburg. “This will allow you to grow more peanuts and hopefully get more dollars for them.”

Parker, with 35 years in agriculture and the peanut industry, is only the second person to hold the board’s top leadership position.

“We had 180 persons seeking this job,” says Don Self, Monroe County producer and Mississippi’s delegate to the National Peanut Board, “and we felt Bob was the person best qualified to assume the challenges of leading the organization into the future.

“He has held a number of leadership positions in the peanut industry, including 25 years with Golden Peanut Company, so he knows our business and the issues and challenges we face.

“We take very seriously the dollars the nation’s peanut growers invest in this program,” Self says, “and we feel Bob will be an excellent steward of this investment.”

“I’m really excited for this opportunity,” Parker says. “I’ve spent most of my lifetime working in agriculture and in other areas of the peanut industry. I believe I can use the experiences and relationships I’ve developed over the years to the benefit of America’s peanut farmers.”

One of the first tasks confronting him and the board, he says, is developing a five-year strategic plan and a plan of work for 2013.

Key components of that plan, Parker says, will be “marketing and promotion, product development, working through companies to assist them in securing the supply of peanuts they need, and helping them in any way we can to better utilize our products.

“Another important objective is reputation management — which boils down to making sure we don’t sell fewer peanuts because of some problem, or perceived problem, whether it be food allergy, salmonella, or some other issue.”

Studies have shown, Parker says, that less than 1 percent of the population is allergic to peanuts, ‘but the allergy issue and the media attention surrounding it are a continuing major problem for our industry, and one we need to counteract with facts.

“In many cases, the other 99 percent of the population not allergic may be prevented from enjoying peanut products because of a ban being imposed. It’s always better to confront an issue like this beforehand than to try and deal with it after the fact.”

Going forward, he says, the messaging of the National Peanut Board will be centered on health and wellness. “We have a great story to tell. Peanuts have more protein than any other nut; they’re a great source of over 30 vitamins and nutrients.

Industry collaboration a key goal

“One of our top goals is to collaborate with other industry groups to make sure we have a meaningful message and that we’re all sharing the same message, rather than creating confusion with different messages. Everyone needs to be on the same page, working together.”

Unfortunately, Parker says, the peanut industry is “squarely in the bullseye” of competitors. “We have the highest sales volume of any of the nuts, and naturally the tree nut groups are coming after us to try and take some of our market share.

“A leading pistachio seller ran an ad during Super Bowl. A 30-second ad costs $3.8 million for air time alone, with production costs on top of that. $3.8 million is more than the National Peanut Board’s entire advertising budget for the entire year.

“We’re going to have to work hard and smarter in order to stay in the game to keep — and increase — our market share.”

The peanut board will be “looking at every program to make sure it’s the most effective, practical way to spend the money you invest,” Parker says. “I’m encouraging our staff to look at all our programs on the basis of how many farmer stock tons will this help us to sell? That’s the criteria we’ll use that as a basis for choosing the programs we want to pursue.

“Everybody benefits if we can sell more peanuts, whether it be shellers, growers, brokers, manufacturers — anyone that touches the peanut industry benefits from working together. We’ve got to constantly communicate with each other to make sure we don’t duplicate efforts.”

The week previous to the Mississippi meeting, Parker says, “I attended a specialty food products show, with people from all over the country attending, and we made a lot of contacts with key industry leaders, answering their questions and inquiring about any problems they may have.

“Collectively these companies represent a big part of our business, and meeting with them offered a great opportunity to develop relationships that can lead to increased utilization of our peanuts.”

The peanut board will continue to invest grower dollars to fund production research in peanut-growing states, Parker says. “A number of these projects, through the Mississippi Peanut Producers Association and Mississippi State University, have the goal of more efficient production — either through increasing yields or reducing input costs, or both.

“Whether breeding programs, applied research, basic research, disease studies, whatever, we will continue to work closely with our member organizations to support research efforts to benefit producers.

“You work hard to grow your peanuts, and there are other things you could do with the money coming out of your proceeds to support the work of the National Peanut Board. I promise we’ll do everything possible to stretch those dollars and spend your money carefully and wisely to get the best return on your investment.”

One “very positive note” in the record 2012 U.S. crop that was expected to result in large carryover is that China has come into the market, Parker says, and “is buying U.S. peanuts at an unprecedented level.” This is a result of problems with India’s crop and cutbacks in that country’s sales to China.

In assuming his role as leader of the organization, Parker paid tribute to Marie Fenn, the National Peanut Board’s first president and executive director.

“She served our organization for almost 12 years, and did a super job of setting it up and developing and overseeing it’s programs and objectives. Coming in on her heels, I feel blessed to have the benefit of the work she has done and the staff she assembled.”