Business Feature: Processors pleased with peanuts

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Maria Chaves of Portales is a picker at the Sunland peanut plant in Portales. Her team is the last line of defense in removing stems from the peanuts.

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

It’s not always a golden harvest. But this year local peanut growers and processors say the weather has been perfect and the nuggets they’re bringing in are bright of hull and sweet tasting.

“It’s going great,” Sunland CEO and President Jimmie Shearer said. “Weather-wise this is probably the best season we’ve had in a long time.”

Shearer says that while it’s not the record harvest the area saw in 2005, the quality is good and grades are better with few blackened hulls.

Rains during the harvest season can lead to blackened hulls, which can cause the price to suffer, according to Shearer. The variety grown locally, Valencia, is known for its bright hull and makes up a large part of the market for roasted in-shell peanuts.

Wayne Baker of Portales said his peanuts are running late but he plans on digging this week.

“We’re still in good shape and hoping the weather holds,” Baker said. “Nearly everything I know of is dug but mine.

“We’ve been watching the Weather Channel a lot,” he admitted with a nervous laugh.

He said Sunland has about 75 percent of its approximately 50 growers’ crops in the mill now.

Kelly Tivis at Glen’s Peanuts in Arch reported similar results.

“It’s looking pretty good,” Tivis said. “We’re probably about 95 percent done. The weather was real good so they came in real fast.”

Tivis said his five contracted growers were showing yields of about 2,700 pounds per acre.

Baker, chairman of the New Mexico Peanut Growers Association, said he believes the harvest is more than halfway done.

Baker said other growers he’s talked to have been surprised when their peanuts are heavier on the scales than they seemed in the field. He said that is indicative of a quality harvest.

Shearer said that the dry harvest season has led to a much drier crop than in years past. With less drying at the mill, he says costs decrease and taste improves.

“It’s better for the peanuts when you dry them naturally,” Shearer said. “With the Valencias, we’re selling the taste, so that’s a good thing.”

Shearer also noted this year would be the largest crop of organic peanuts ever in the area. He said that 40 percent of what Sunland takes in this year will be organic.

In the past the company has had to ration organics to its buyers because they didn’t have enough. He’s hoping this year that won’t be necessary.