Birdsong Peanuts: The Final Stop

21504049441_ee47a17e20_oAfter a delicious lunch at Moby Dick Restaurant in Colquitt, Georgia, tour attendees traveled right down the road to Birdsong Peanuts’ shelling facility. Birdsong Peanuts is a family-owned company based out of Suffolk, Virginia, and has been in business for more than 100 years, extending five generations. During this time, the company has delivered nutritious peanuts to manufacturers around the world to make food products such as peanut butter, trail mix, snack nuts, candy and many other items. Other than the school system, Birdsong Peanuts is the largest employer in Miller County, Georgia.

In Birdsong’s business, peanuts are carefully selected directly from farmers’ fields. After selection, they are cleaned, shelled, sized and shipped in truckloads or rail cars in lots to manufacturers who turn them into many popular food items.


Peanut Flow Diagram provided by Birdsong Peanuts

Peanut Flow Diagram provided by Birdsong Peanuts

During the peanut tour visit, attendees had a chance to walk through the shelling plant and see how peanuts are brought in, shelled and prepared for shipping to manufacturers. Joey George, Colquitt shelling plant manager, gave participants an overview of what to expect before entering the plant and went through the steps of the process:

  1. Cleaning: peanut vines, glass, metal, sticks, etc. are removed from the peanuts; de-stoners are also used to remove rocks and stones from the product
  2. Shellers: several banks of shellers are located in the plant; the size of the peanut determines which bank shells it; about 80 percent of peanuts are shelled on what is considered the “first pass”
  3. Gravity: used to separate any foreign material left after the peanuts have been shelled
  4. Sorters: “electronic eyes” used to pick out dark spots and blemishes unwanted in product
  5. Sizers: includes jumbo, medium and number one sizes; splits are also included; Carter Day machines are then used for additional sizing
  6. Packaging: 2,200 lb bags are packaged out; 20 or 21 bags are used to make a complete lot; it takes about 60 seconds to fill a bag; this plant fills about 600 bags per day
Tour attendees hearing from Joey George before touring the plant.

Tour attendees hearing from Joey George before touring the plant.

George went on to discuss the general operations of the plant.

“At our facility we run 24/7 year-round; we have a few holidays we take, but we shell year-round,” he said. Due to the large volume of peanuts shelled, the facility isn’t able to close. “We shell about 1.5 million pounds of peanuts a day, so that’s a lot of peanuts that have to go somewhere.” George also mentioned the facility ships out by rail and truck. Some peanuts are also stored in cold storage. According to George’s knowledge, this facility houses the largest peanut storage warehouse in the United States.

One thing that makes Birdsong unique is their commitment to focus solely on peanuts. From planting, harvesting, shelling and shipping, Birdsong monitors every peanut to make sure it is the highest quality product sent to manufacturers. Today, the company operates six shelling plants throughout the peanut belt made up of 11 states extending from Virginia to New Mexico. In addition, Birdsong operates 85 buying points where farmers’ stock peanuts are bought and stored. Also, cold storage warehouses, which enable Birdsong to keep peanuts in a protected environment until shipped to customers, are located at some facilities. Finally, Birdsong has extensive farm operations in Florida and Texas where they grow peanuts on 100 percent irrigated land.

For a glimpse inside one of Birdsong’s shelling facilities, view the video below.

View the 2015 Georgia Peanut Tour Album.

Dryland Peanuts North of Whigham, Georgia

Left to right: John Harrell, Douglas Harrell and Tommy Harrell

Left to right: John Harrell, Douglas Harrell and Tommy Harrell

Day two of the Georgia Peanut Tour began at Mr. John Harrell’s farm in Grady County. Harrell and his brother, Tommy along with his son, Douglas, farm approximately 10 miles north of Whigham, Georgia. Harrell and his brother are 6th generation farmers on their family’s land and have been farming together for 40 years. Together on their farm, the Harrells raise cattle and grow approximately 300 acres of peanuts and nearly 1,000 acres of cotton.

During the tour visit, attendees got a chance to see dryland peanuts at 114 days old. These peanuts had received approximately eight inches of rain from planting through the month of July. In August, they received around one inch and since Sept. 5, they had received more than three inches.


Dryland peanuts at 114 days old.

Harrell attributed the “cleanliness” of the field to timeliness of herbicide application.This field, along with most of the peanuts planted on the Harrells’ farm, is planted in single rows. Unlike some farmers, Harrell prefers single row when compared to twin rows; he believes it works better for them. Overall, roughly half of the Harrells’ peanut crop is irrigated and half is dryland. Also, GPS technology is not used on their farm.

John Harrell is an advisory board member at the Georgia Peanut Commission and the representing member from Georgia for the National Peanut Board. He also serves as the chairman of the Georgia Farm Bureau Peanut Commodity Committee. Harrell is on the research committee for both GPC and NPB and commented on the research dollars contributed on behalf of Georgia peanut growers. “Georgia farmers are funding their research at approximately $1.2 million per year,” Harrell said. Funding from GPC is approximately $300,000 per year and NPB funding is approximately $800,000 per year.

According to Brian Hayes, UGA extension agent, Grady County is mostly dryland. Approximately 25 percent of the farmland is irrigated. Historically, farmers in Grady County have grown between 6,000 and 8,000 acres of peanuts. In 2015, there is approximately 10,000-12,000 acres of peanuts planted. When compared to neighboring counties, the field sizes in Grady County are much smaller.

View the video below for an interview with John Harrell about his peanut crop.

View the 2015 Georgia Peanut Tour Album

A Family Tradition Built by World Class Machinery

Lewis Carter welcoming tour attendees to LMC.

Lewis Carter welcoming tour attendees to LMC.

Before heading to dinner, attendees of the Georgia Peanut Tour visited LMC Manufacturing in the heart of peanut production in Donalsonville, Georgia. With a history of more than 70 years, Lewis Carter and his family have built equipment ranging from peanut shellers for Georgia farmers to bow hooks for the Navy during World War II. At the root of it all remains the consistent mechanical innovations, which have helped the peanut industry operate smarter and more efficiently.

Through the years, LMC has become a world leader in manufacturing peanut shellers and equipment for the peanut shelling process. Approximately 90 percent of the commercial peanut shelling market uses LMC equipment. The machines are designed to maximize processing and speed up separation effectiveness. The need for peanuts to be cleaned and graded more efficiently is required now more than ever. LMC’s engineers work to produce the highest quality, most efficient machines specific to the industry’s needs.

LMC employee giving attendees a tour of the manufacturing facilities.

LMC employee giving attendees a tour of the manufacturing facilities.

Below are some of the types of peanut processing systems LMC can design and build from the ground up:

  • Peanut Shelling Systems
  • Peanut Blanching Systems
  • Peanut Sizing Systems
  • Buying Point Operation Systems

IMG_0625LMC offers the following equipment specifically designed and engineered for peanut processing:

  • Peanut Sheller: Used to shell peanuts with high efficiency, high capacity and minimum split creation
  • Sizing Shakers: Used to separate dry, flowable products, like peanuts, by specific size
  • De-stoners: Used for removal of large stones, dirt clods and glass in the pre-cleaning stages and precision small stone removal in finishing circuits
  • Roll Feeders: Used to regulate flows and evenly distribute product flow across processing equipment
  • Vibratory Feeders: Used to evenly distribute product flow across processing equipment
  • Aspirators: Used to separate lights (shells, pops, sticks and stems) from heavies (inshell and meats) based on aerodynamic profile and density
  • Air Gap Cleaner: Used to remove twigs, stones and dirt from peanuts; capable of receiving large volumes of product, while also providing accurate cleaning capability
  • Easy Dump Elevators: Used to gently elevate products
  • Vibratory Conveyors: Used to gently convey products
  • Gravity Separators: Used to separate lights from heavies based on density

With LMC’s large range of peanut customers, they have made contacts all across the globe including: South America, Australia, the Middle East, Europe and the Western United States including California.

Click the video below to learn more about LMC and the Lewis Carter Family.

 View the 2015 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album


Bell Farms in Decatur County

Andy Bell, peanut grower from Decatur County, speaking to attendees about Bell Farms.

Andy Bell, peanut grower from Decatur County, speaking to attendees about Bell Farms.

Wednesday morning kicked off with the first stop of the 2015 Georgia Peanut Tour at Bell Farms in Climax, Georgia. Andy Bell and his brother Buster have been farming together for more than 30 years. Bell and his brother raise cattle and grow approximately 900 acres of peanuts, 1,100-1,200 acres of cotton and 200 acres of corn and silage in Decatur County. Of their peanuts, approximately 800 acres are GA-06G, 60 acres are Tiff Guard and 45 acres are Florida 107, a high oleic variety.

During the morning visit, Bell showed attendees a field of GA-06Gs and discussed how he manages the field. “These particular peanuts have been sprayed three times with Provost and one time with Headline,” Bell said. “They are about 125 days old; not quite ready to dig.” The maturity range for GA-06G is approximately 135-145 days after planting, depending on the weather. He also mentioned how there is no hand-weeding in the field. Even though Bell and his family spray their field throughout the growing season, a lot of their herbicides are put into place at the time of planting.

Bell went on to discuss his family’s use of GPS technology on their equipment. “All of our crops are managed with GPS and we really feel like that saves us money on gathering, planting and spraying; it just makes everything work a lot better when you have a straight row…It’s a really good system and it works well.” The GPS technology steers the tractor down to within a couple of inches accuracy. This type of tool can cost growers approximately $30,000, depending on the model. Bell and his family run two, six-row diggers. During harvest, they normally start early in the morning with digging and pick all afternoon. They have family members hauling peanuts and drying them, as well.


GA-06Gs 125 days after planting.

According to Bell, the field size varies across the county. “Typically, on this side of the county, the field size is smaller. This particular field is a 30 acre, irrigated field. Our largest irrigated peanut field is about 115 acres. The land on this side of the river just doesn’t lay well enough to have larger fields.”

Dr. Bob Kemerait, UGA plant pathologist, pointed out how well Bell Farms’ looked and commended him for his practices. He discussed how a field that looks as good as Bell Farms’ is not easy to achieve; it is difficult. Education and innovation of Georgia’s peanut growers, as well as cooperation with UGA Extension is also important in helping Georgia farmers grow the highest quality peanuts.

Dr. Scott Monfort, UGA peanut agronomist, pointed out how expensive it is for Georgia peanut farmers. “We’re getting to bigger and bigger equipment, more technology; and that’s more expense. This is probably a couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth of equipment sitting right here, and that’s not to mention he’s probably got several of these that he runs on 800 acres.” He commented on how the industry is appreciative of Georgia growers and the long hours and money they invest to grow a quality crop.

When asked questions from tour attendees, Bell said he and his brother do not typically plant cover crops; however, on dry years, they will bale peanut hay and feed it to their cattle. When selecting varieties to plant, nematodes are the key influencer. “If it’s dryland, we plant Tiff Guard, which has resistance to nematodes.” For a variety like GA-06G, Bell says approximately four gallons of Telone, used for nematode control, is put out in the row and peanuts are planted right behind it. The selection of Florida 107 for planting was market driven because of the high oleic trait. For those who are unfamiliar, high oleic is related to the ratio of linoleic acid in the peanut. It allows the peanut to have a longer shelf-life, making it more desirable to food manufacturers. When asked about rotation, Bell mentioned cotton and corn as rotational crops. “Typically our rotation is two years of cotton and/or corn, or corn silage and one year of peanuts. Sometimes it can be more or less depending on the situation.”

Dr. Scott Monfort, UGA peanut agronomist, speaking to tour attendees.

Dr. Scott Monfort, UGA peanut agronomist, speaking to tour attendees.

To conclude the tour stop, Dr. Monfort, Dr. Kemerait and Bell discussed the expected yield of the presented field. “They [peanuts] could be between two and three tons per acre, it just depends on how mature they are,” Monfort said. Kemerait added, “If he makes three tons out here and right now the price is about $400/ton, he makes $1,200.” When asked about how much he spends per acre, Bell replied “roughly $900-$1,000 an acre…it’s our highest dollar crop and irrigated peanuts would be hard to grow for less than $900 per acre…if we make two tons out here, we will break even.” Kemerait pointed out how it is not easy or always profitable to be a peanut farmer.

According to Brian Hayes, UGA extension agent, Decatur County has a farm gate value of $200+ million annually and farms between 25,000-28,000 acres of peanuts historically; however, in 2015, there have been approximately 35,000 acres of peanuts planted throughout the county.

To view a digging demonstration at Bell Farms, view the video below.

View the 2015 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album


Vidalia Valley is more than just onions

20140918_vidaliavalleyAfter finishing up lunch at UGA’s Southeast Research and Education Center, tour participants continued their trek to the land of onions. Wait a minute. This is supposed to be the Peanut Tour. What are we doing visiting an onion area? Well, since Georgia is known for its sweet onion, the Vidalia Onion, it is only fitting to learn a little about Georgia’s famous tear-jerker while in this part of the state.

Tour attendees arrived at Vidalia Valley in Lyons, Georgia. Vidalia Valley is owned by the Stanley family, which is a 6th generation family of Georgia farmers. Brian, R.T. Jr., Tracy and Vince are the current generation to grow the business from a local, seasonal farm to a year-round, multi-location and multi-functional group of integrated businesses. They not only grow the country’s famous Vidalia Onions, they farm over 4,000 acres of other vegetables and row crops. Vidalia Valley, the processing facility, bottles thousands of cases and millions of pounds of peeled and diced onions including reds, whites and yellows, each year. Vidalia Onion Farms, IQF facility, freezes millions of pounds of diced onions, carrots and sweet potatoes each year. Vidalia’s Best, the fresh produce facility, grows and distributes fresh cucumbers, melons and sweet potatoes. When it comes to fresh and processed produce, the Stanley’s and their integrated business are your East coast source for ‘Farm Direct Made Easy.’

During the tour of Vidalia Valley, tour participants were given a tour of the facility. At this particular facility, onions grown by Stanley Farms, as well as outsourced onions are shipped in, peeled and sent into manufacturing or further processing. During Vidalia Onion season, which runs from April to August, representatives from Vidalia Valley said they ship out 40,000 pounds a day of whole, peeled onions. Through Vidalia Valley’s processing facility, products such as relishes, salsas, dressings, vinaigrettes, jams, jellies, specialty items, barbeque and hot sauce, as well as organic products are created. Many of the products can be found on Vidalia Valley’s website,, and some are created for other restaurants and retailers. Vidalia Valley even develops peanut related products for consumers, such as a Thai peanut sauce and a peanut butter barbecue sauce for Paula Dean. Click here for one of Paula’s recipes using the peanut butter barbecue sauce!

View the 2014 Georgia Peanut Photo Album.

Once peanuts leave the farm

After finishing up the final field visit of the day, tour attendees were provided lunch by the Bulloch County Extension Office. During this stop, attendees received a presentation from Shawn Gaines with Golden Peanut Company.

Since tour attendees were unable to visit a shelling plant during the 2014 tour due to location, Shawn Gaines began the presentations by providing a basic overview of the peanut shelling process. Gaines discussed what happens to peanuts from start to finish: buying point receipt to when peanuts are sold to the manufacturer. Gaines also provided an overview of Golden Peanut Company and discussed how Golden is committed to enhancing and maintaining quality. He mentioned how Golden Peanut Company is a leading sheller and processor of peanuts and peanut products. Their primary product lines include raw, shelled and in-shell peanuts, peanut flowers, peanut extracts, roasted aromatic and refined various peanut oils, as well as peanut seed. Golden serves peanut growers and operates plants in all major peanut-growing areas of the United States and Argentina. Their mission statement is to continually improve: themselves, their services, their processes and their products to meet customer needs.

View the 2014 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album.

A buying point 100 years old and going strong!

2014_gpt_053sAfter finishing up our field stop in Bulloch County, the Peanut Tour caravan continued on to the Birdsong Ogeechee Buying Point in Brooklet, Georgia. Birdsong Peanuts buys carefully selected peanuts directly from the farmers’ fields. Peanuts are then cleaned, shelled, sized and shipped to manufacturers who turn them into popular food items; from peanut butter to peanut M&Ms.

The Birdsong Ogeechee Buying Point is one of 85 of Birdsong’s buying points located throughout the peanut-growing belt comprised of 11 states extending from Virginia to New Mexico. At the buying points, Birdsong buys and stores farmers’ peanuts until they are ready for processing.

David Rushing, manager of the Ogeechee location welcomed attendees to the buying point by giving them a brief history on the location. He stated the Ogeechee location started in 1990 by a farm family in the area, and in January 2011, Birdsong Peanuts purchased it. The buying point receives peanuts from five nearby counties and employs three full-time employees, one part-time employee and up to 20 employees during harvest season. Due to weather conditions, they have not begun processing loads from the 2014 crop.

2014_gpt_076sDuring the visit, attendees had the opportunity to view Birdsong’s sampling process, grading room, drying facility and storage warehouse. The sampling process is the first step the peanuts go through when they arrive at the buying point. A pneumatic sampler, or gig, is used to sample the peanuts brought into the buying point in a peanut wagon. The sampler has a probe which is inserted into the wagon and pulls out approximately 1,800 grams or peanuts. A different probe pattern is used on each trailer to obtain samples from front to back of the trailer. This ensures an accurate sample is obtained. The sampling process can take up to 15 minutes to complete depending on foreign material content. During the busy time of harvest, this buying point samples approximately 150 loads per day.

Once the peanuts are sampled from the wagon, the sample is taken to the grading room for inspection, dried with large peanut driers where they are heated up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and then transferred to the storage facility. Before being placed in dry storage, the peanuts must have less than six percent foreign material and approximately 10 percent moisture. Once this is complete, they are stored in a warehouse before being used for manufacturing.

This year is special for Birdsong Peanuts as they are celebrating their 100 year anniversary! Kevin Calhoun with Birdsong gave attendees a little background information on Birdsong as a company. He said the company is a five generation, family-owned business. They take pride in their food safety programs, worker safety programs and quality control. If you eat products made with U.S.-grown peanuts, chances are you have consumed peanuts from Birdsong!

To go along with this stop, tour attendees had a special treat. Refreshments and grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were served to those who wanted a quick snack while at the buying point.

To view a video on peanut grading presented by Randall Taylor with Georgia Federal State Inspection Service, click the video below.

View the 2014 Georgia Peanut Tour Photo Album.

Peanuts have the power to lend a helping hand

To conclude the Hot Topics session, Dr. Bob Kemerait, extension plant pathologist at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, spoke to tour attendees about the way technology and improved processes are being used to grow peanuts in other areas of the world. As a part of the peanut industry in Georgia, Kemerait believes Georgia peanut farmers have the opportunity to improve the lives of very deserving and hardworking people in developing countries of the tropics by helping to improve their peanut industry – from planting to processing, to value-added. According to Kemerait, areas Georgia farmers can extend technologies to underdeveloped countries include: improved varieties; improved pest management; improved use of fertilizers; improved understanding of harvest maturity; improved equipment for land preparation; improved equipment for harvest; improved equipment for shelling; and management of aflatoxin.

Even though it is important to extend the use of technology to those who need it most, Kemerait says it is important to be cautious. Care should be taken not to unrealistically raise expectations when cost and/or availability is questionable. Considerations for local markets (local preferences) and considerations of chemical use should be recognized, as well as consideration of how labor-saving devices could affect job opportunities – especially for women.

When participating in outreach to developing countries, careful coordination with in-country partners should be exercised and careful consideration for impact and unforeseen consequences should be done. Dr. Kemerait also believes it is important to provide education for growers, production guides as references and training for local leaders Without these things, the success of the country is unlikely.

Sequencing the peanut genome

Following the presentation from USAID, Dr. Peggy Ozias-Akins spoke with tour attendees about genomics. According to Ozias-Akins, genomics is the study of the structure and function of the total complement (DNA) of an organism. The genome sequence of the peanut plant’s progenitors is facilitating rapid discovery of molecular differences between cultivated peanut varieties. These differences are being tested for linkage to traits of importance to growers and industry. Discovering linkages will enable application of molecular tools to breeding in order to more rapidly combine traits of interest. As many folks know, the peanut-genome was released earlier this year. According to Ozias-Akins, the peanut is complicated genetically. This is due primarily to the fact it is a polyploid.

During her presentation, Dr. Ozias-Akins described DNA and how it works. DNA is strand of As, Ts, Cs and Gs. Each letter stands for a specific molecule or nucleotide that form strands. Each strand is a chromosome. The peanut has 40 chromosomes – 20 from each ancestor. There are over 2 billion molecules in the peanut genome. The process of understanding the genome sequence is extremely tedious and time-consuming. Technologies for sequencing has advanced over the last several years, and because of this, the cost to sequence is much less and more feasible to sequence crop genomes such as peanuts.

Dr. Ozias-Akins then went on to discuss molecular markers. She described what markers were and how they are important. The use of molecular markers as a substitute for phenotypic selection, aka marker-assisted breeding, requires that marker-phenotype associations be identified. These markers are potentially most useful for recessive traits, stacking genes for traits, quantitative traits and difficult phenotypes. The genome project is not just about generating sequence, but applying it in breeding.

Farm Bill: As many questions as answers

Dr. Nathan Smith, extension economist with the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, provided an update on the 2014 Farm Bill during the Hot Topics session. His presentation’s goal was to give tour attendees more information about the Farm Bill, including new changes and ways it will affect peanuts. Included in his presentation was a summary of the new Farm Bill, particularly as it relates to peanuts. Smith stated we have had the same Farm Bill since 2008. This new program will repeal DCP and ACRE programs and eliminate direct payments and counter-cyclical payments. It also establishes new commodity programs for all covered commodities, excluding cotton. Price Loss Coverage (PLC), or price safety net and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), or revenue safety net will be options for farmers. This updated program establishes a new “shallow loss” insurance policy called supplemental coverage option (SCO), which will be available for commodities enrolled in PLC and non-STAX cotton. This will be available beginning in 2015.

Smith stated the marketing assistance loan did not change much. Peanut storage and handling cost pretty much stayed the same, as well.

Producers must make a choice for 2014 – an election between PLC, County ARC and individual (Farm) ARC. They have a one-time opportunity to relocate their base acres and update payment yields, which would be used on the PLC program. Farmers’ crop insurance decisions will be yield protection or revenue protection, as well as coverage level. Also, they will be deciding if they want to buy the SCO option if they choose PLC.

To give attendees an update for Georgia, Smith provided statistics on Georgia’s participation. According to Smith, Georgia had 2,983,213 base acres in 2009. This acreage was heavy in cotton and peanut base.

In reference to generic base, Smith stated cotton base becomes generic base in the new bill. Also, generic base does not change during the life of the Farm Bill. Generic base can be used on a year-to-year basis to temporary allocate to a covered commodity (excluding cotton) planted. He said it was important to note a covered commodity must be planted to be eligible for any generic base allocation.

Overall, program decisions for peanuts will be pretty straight forward for most cases. Other crops will be more complicated driven by price outlook. Options for reallocation base and updating yields will vary on a farm by farm, case by case basis because of dynamics of landowner and tenant relationships.