They Are Peanuts. It’s that Simple – Birdsong Peanuts Shelling Plant

After leaving the peanut field, tour attendees traveled to Sylvester, Georgia, to visit the Birdsong Peanuts shelling facility. For five generations, Birdsong Peanuts has delivered naturally nutritious peanuts to manufacturers around the corner and around the world. Birdsong buys carefully selected peanuts directly from the farmers’ fields. The peanuts are then cleaned, shelled, sized and shipped in truckload lots to manufacturers who turn them into many popular food items sold across the globe, from peanut butter to peanut candies.

Birdsong serves its customers from five shelling plants. The plants are supported by many buying points and warehouses to store 2.4 billion pounds of Farmers Stock peanuts. Their cold storage facilities keep 250 million pounds of shelled peanuts in a controlled environment for their customers.

Video and photography is not allowed inside the plant; however, here is a short video showing a glimpse inside Birdsong’s Suffolk, Virginia, location.

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Equipment That Stands the Test of Time – Hays LTI

Located in Camilla, Georgia, Hays LTI has been providing agricultural equipment for more than 50 years. A family-owned and operated business, Hays is best known for its dry fertilizer tenders and liquid tankers. Their equipment can be purchased, rented or both.

Every Hays-LTI product is hand-crafted on site in their state-of-the-art facility located in Camilla, Georgia. Their user-friendly design and attention to detail is what makes their equipment stand the test of time. From fertilizer plants to fields, their equipment moves liquid and dry fertilizer in over 42 states.

The company’s rental fleet includes more than 900 trailers that make up 40% of the company’s income. This option allows customers to have a known cost with no upkeep or repair.

The Hays Tender for dry fertilizer was developed in 2010 and has changed the market. This particular piece of equipment offers a lower trailer weight, equating to extra payload; greater slope on the hoppers for easier unload; covered hydraulic lines and hoses for protection from fertilizer; and all stainless steel augers, bearings, nuts and bolts. Hays employees can produce roughly seven tenders per week.

Hays’ current location was constructed in 2016 and contains all company operations on 60 acres. The location employs 65 people and generates better lead times, as well as the ability to grow the company’s product line and include other fertilizer hauling equipment.

Founder of Hays LTI, Mr. Ray Hays, started a sweet tradition after his retirement. When he called on customers, he wanted to take them something homemade, so Hays began baking homemade pecan pies for Mr. Hays to share. His daughter, Donna, said he never left town without an ice chest full of pecan pies. When he stopped to visit customers, he enjoyed giving out a homemade pecan pie, piece of literature, a business card and good handshake. Today in the Hays kitchen, they make about 600 pies a month to share with friends, vendors and customers. Tour attendees were able to have a slice on their visit, as well.

Donna Hays Stewart, co-owner of Hays LTI, attributes the following life lessons to what she feels help make their family business successful:

  • Be on time
  • Work hard
  • Do things right the first time
  • Take pride in what you do
  • Protect your name
  • Learn from your mistakes, try not to make them again
  • Show appreciation and stay humble
  • Believe that you can and never give up – don’t quit
  • Value people, all people
  • Build strong relationships
  • Treat people right
  • Give 110%
  • Love what you do and trust God

Check out this video showcasing their products from the ground up!

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Dependable Equipment for Progressive Farming – Kelley Manufacturing Co.

Upon leaving the Georgia Department of Ag Seed Lab, the Peanut Tour caravan headed over to Kelley Manufacturing Co. in Tifton. Kelley Manufacturing Co. has been building dependable equipment for progressive farming for more than 45 years. Their Tifton site occupies 28 acres, with 193,000 square feet under roof and more than 210 employees year round.

Since 1966, Kelley Manufacturing Co. has been committed to their original philosophy of maintaining integrity, quality and craftsmanship. Their engineers are continually researching and developing fresh and innovative products to help increase the farmer’s profits and productivity.

Kelley Manufacturing’s product line is complete in that they build equipment for every phase of the farming process – from initial ground preparation through the field cleanup after harvest. Few manufacturers offer such a wide range of products to their customers. KMC employs some of the top engineers and specialists in the manufacturing process and hand-builds every component and machine sold.

During the KMC stop, peanut tour attendees were able to hear more about the history of KMC, participate in a tour of the plant showcasing how the equipment is manufactured, as well as  a hands-on tour of peanut equipment! 


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Tifton Peanut Company – Seed Processing & Grading

After seeing how peanuts are harvested from the field, the Georgia Peanut Tour attendees stopped at Tifton Peanut Company to see what happens once the peanuts leave the farm. Tifton Peanut Company has six locations in Tifton and offers multiple services for the peanut farmer. They are a shelling plant, seed treatment facility, buying point and warehousing facility.

Tour attendees arrive at Tifton Peanut Company.

Peanut arrive to Tifton Peanut Company on wagons or semi-trailers.

Peanuts arrive from the farm to Tifton Peanut Company via wagons or semi-trailers. If needed, the peanuts will go through a cleaner where dirt, rocks, sticks, etc. are removed. The moisture of the peanuts is then read and if needed, the peanuts may go into a dryer if moisture is above 10.5 percent. This threshold is determined by USDA; however, Tifton Peanut Company prefers to dry their peanuts to nine percent to prevent any storage issues throughout the year. A flexible duct extending from a fan is attached to the front or back of a semi-trailer or wagon, where air that is no more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit above ambient temperature and no higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit is pushed through the peanuts to dry them.

Peanuts are dried if needed.

The trailers the peanuts arrive on are sent to a mechanical sampler, where wagons are probed eight times and a semi-trailer is probed 15 times. In semi trailers, this equates to roughly a 150-200 lb. peanut sample. From there, a 3,600 gram sample goes into a riffle divider that divides the sample in half. One half is an official grade sample that goes into the grading room and the other as a “just in case sample” to double-check accuracies of the grading or to use in case something happens with the initial grade sample.

Peanuts are sampled for grading under this shed.

Tifton Peanut Company offers green grading, also known as high moisture grading. This allows peanuts to be graded up to 18 percent moisture, which results in a deduction in grade and value and requires the load to go back on a dryer; however, the peanuts are not required to be re-graded. Check out the video below to see how the grading process works.

For seed treatment, peanut seed is shelled and stored in 2,200 lb. totes. A 5 lb. sample is retained out of that and sent off for germination where it has to germ to at least 75 before it can be put on the market. Tifton Peanut Company does not save anything unless it’s 85 or above. Once it has a germination, they will work through Georgia Crop Improvement to get tags for that lot. Each lot is 45,000 lbs. From there, the peanut seed goes through a shaker to eliminate any splits. It then receives a fungicide treatment. There are several different types of treatment available. Tifton Peanut Company uses a polymer treatment they feel better protects the peanut and allows them to color it for identification. After being treated, the peanuts go back in the 2,000 lb. tote bags or 50 lb. bags and return to storage until farmers are ready to purchase for planting season. Planting season for peanuts begins in the April/May timeframe each year. Good quality seed is critical for peanut farmers. And a 4 oz. seed treatment can be the determining factor on whether a crop is successful.

Peanut seed is treated at Tifton Peanut Company.

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More Than a Fertilizer Company

To kick off the final day of the tour, Agri-AFC graciously hosted tour attendees at the company’s Cordele location. Agri-AFC, a company who supports crops of all varieties, was formed in the fall of 2003 as a joint venture between Alabama Farmers Cooperative and WinField United. This joining allowed local cooperative members of the Alabama Farmers Cooperative to have more competitively priced crop input products and availability of new products.

IMG_6020Since its inception, Agri-AFC has made several additions by purchasing fertilizer companies, retail locations and storage and handling facilities throughout the Southeast. Agri-AFC is based out of Decatur, Alabama, and currently has more than 300 employees. These employees staff the seven fertilizer terminals, three crop protection warehouses, three seed warehouses, eight professional products locations, a cotton gin and warehouse and 30 retail operations throughout the Southeast.


The Cordele location, seated on 13 acres, operates an 8,000-ton fertilizer plant and is home to the company’s largest retail location. For fertilizer specifically, the plant sees approximately 50 semi-trucks each day, where they operate a new high-speed system that loads trucks in six minutes or less; much faster than an older version that may take 45 minutes to an hour to load. Most peanuts are not fertilized; however, since peanuts are typically rotated with cotton and corn, both crops that need fertilizer, what this location offers is important to the South Georgia row crop farmer.


Clint Powell with Agri-AFC discusses different types of fertilizers with Peanut Tour attendees.

This location also services 12 of Georgia’s 14 stores as a full-service agricultural retailer, operating in 20,000 square feet of retail space. In addition to the fertilizer offered, the company treats corn, cotton and soybean seed, as well as rye, wheat and oats occasionally. They also sale a variety of chemical products for peanuts and other crops, as well as lime and land plaster.

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Essential Equipment

Upon leaving Golden’s shelling facility, tour attendees traveled down the road to Nolin Steel. Nolin Steel, a third generation, family-owned and operated business, is a machine manufacturing company in the peanut industry. The company was founded in 1975 by Guy and Frank Nolin in Commache, Texas, and originally focused on millwright work. The company moved to Ashburn in 1986 and over time, began making changes in manufacturing and redirecting its focus to custom equipment and niche markets. Today, Nolin Steel manufacturers a multitude of equipment products, including those for processing and materials handling. To keep up with new technology, investments in modern manufacturing have allowed them to handle many processes on site (design, laser cutting, forming, welding, powder coating and final assembly). The company is growth-oriented with 30 employees, 80,000+ square feet of space and endless possibilities.


Nolin Steel serves the peanut industry, as well as almonds, grain and feed. In regard to peanuts, they provide turn key projects for buying points and warehousing, shelling and in-shell plants, blanching plants, re-mill lines, seed treating lines and bulk load out systems. The company’s philosophy on equipment design is to make it effective (it must do a good job), durable (it must last a long time), simple (they follow the KISS method), efficient (lowest possible inputs to do the job at hand), user friendly (no advanced degrees needed) and inexpensive (their goal is to make a living, not a fortune). To view their peanut equipment, click here.


During the group’s visit at Nolin, attendees received a tour of Nolin’s manufacturing facility and a presentation on the company. Grant Nolin, president of the company, said one of the key take-home messages he wanted tour attendees to leave with is any size peanut shelling plant can be profitable. At Nolin Steel, their goal is to design exactly what the customer needs from the ground up; no matter the size. They want customers to understand their timeless values: hard work, quality, honesty and integrity, constant improvement and excellence. All things the Georgia Peanut Tour attendees were able to see.

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Time to Shell Out

Now that tour attendees have seen how peanuts are taken to a buying point, the next step in the process is moving them to a shelling plant. In Georgia, farmers grow primarily runner peanuts. Runners are used in predominately peanut butter and peanut candy; therefore, they are almost always shelled before moving on to further processing. To show tour attendees what that process is like, a visit to Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts in Ashburn is on the agenda.


Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts, a wholly owned subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland, is a leading sheller in the peanut industry. Dating back to the 1950s, Golden has consistently remained committed to the industry – to growers, manufacturers and the global market. In the United States alone, Golden has peanut shelling and specialty product facilities in Georgia (Ashburn, Blakely and Dawson), Alabama and Texas. Internationally, they have peanut shelling facilities in Argentina and South Africa. Their specialty products include peanut flours, oil and extract, as well as hull and fiber options.


The Ashburn facility, which has been in operation since 1967, operates as a sheller of runner peanuts only and provides cold storage. The Ashburn facility receives peanuts to shell from Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

To view the shelling process, check out this video from minute 6:22 to minute 8:44.


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Low Country Near the Low Country

IMG_2946 (002)The 2018 Georgia Peanut Tour concluded with dinner hosted at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah. The botanical gardens are part of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and offer year-round education classes and workshops for all ages and abilities, as well as special events and opportunities for visitors to connect with nature and be inspired through beautiful gardens and collections. The garden is a popular Savannah attraction featuring a museum of plants, a tranquil escape, a living classroom and a historic venue for special events. The botanical gardens host more than 100,000 visitors each year.

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Corteva Agriscience representatives


This year’s closing dinner featured the famous low country boil and peanut-inspired ice cream sponsored by Corteva Agriscience. Corteva, formerly Dow AgroSciences, has sponsored the low country boil for many years, making it a tradition most all tour attendees look forward to. The boil includes shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn.


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This year, the tour featured nearly 200 attendees representing 19 states, as well as international guests from four different countries (Malawi, Zambia, Bangladesh and India). Participants ranged from industry personnel, to government agencies, to manufacturers. All had the opportunity to learn more about Georgia peanuts and production. Thank you to all who have made the tour possible, attended or followed along via the blog. We look forward to seeing you in 2019!

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GPT Chairman Dr. Bob Kemerait accepts a gift from tour attendees visiting from Malawi.

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Peanut Entomology Update from Dr. Mark Abney

Dr. Mark Abney, research and Extension peanut entomologist at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus gave an entomology update at the UGA Southeast Research and Education Center. At this location, Dr. Abney said they have a research trial looking at different materials for managing thrips. Thrips are an early season seedling pest, but they remain a concern throughout the growing season. They cause damage to the plant by feeding on it and by spreading Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. The research he is conducting in Midville will allow him to make recommendations to growers for how to best manage thrips on their farm.

For the 2018 crop year, thrip pressure has varied across the state. Some areas have seen very little pressure, while others have had moderate to heavy pressure, as well as higher levels of TSWV. Overall, Dr. Abney thinks virus levels are lower than they were in 2017; however, it is still there and needs to be managed.


Another major insect affecting peanuts that Dr. Abney studies is the burrow bug. The burrow bug is a stink bug that lives in the ground. It feeds on the developing peanut pod inside the shell and causes grade loss for farmers when they sell their peanuts at a buying point. This grade loss equates to financial loss for the farmer. The insect is difficult to manage; however, Dr. Abney has a few ways to monitor and control them. He is working to understand the biology of the insect better, as well as looking at potential products to use to control it. Currently, there is only one insecticide available to control the burrower bug and it is slated for cancellation by the Environmental Protection Agency, so research is being done to find another alternative product. Another soil insect pest Dr. Abney studies is the southern corn root worm. It’s not a big problem for most growers in Georgia; however, it’s an insect that likes wet weather, so during raining growing seasons, it can be seen. It is also managed with the same product used on burrower bugs, so an alternative management product is needed for it as well.

Dr. Abney said insect management is really important for peanut growers even though it’s not typically something they think about when managing their production practices. He and his colleagues continue to work to find more tools for Georgia peanut farmers’ tool belts so they can better manage insect pressure on their farms and continue to grow quality Georgia peanuts.

To follow entomology updates, visit the UGA Peanut Entomology Blog.

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Peanut Disease Update from Dr. Bob Kemerait

While at the University of Georgia’s Southeast Georgia Research & Education Center, tour attendees were given a disease update from Dr. Bob Kemerait, Extension plant pathologist at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus. Kemerait said diseases are one of the biggest problems for peanut production in Georgia and many are caused by viruses, fungi and nematodes. At the research and education center in Midville, Dr. Kemerait and others are working to learn more about managing diseases in peanuts and giving that information to the farmer to help him grow a better crop. He said the research he is doing is two-fold; one to find an integrated management system for how to manage a virus and two, to do trials and experiments to evaluate what is available in terms of varieties and fungicides that can help growers better manage diseases.

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Dr. Bob Kemerait showing tour attendees what TSWV looks like on peanuts.

One disease Dr. Kemerait and his colleagues focus on frequently is Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV). According to Kemerait, TSWV is one of the most devasting diseases affecting peanuts. With his research, he is working to understand the relationship between the disease and the vector that spreads the disease, which is a small pest called a thrip. By understanding the relationship, he can create models to predict how many thrips would be in the field and how to best manage the spread of the disease. Dr. Kemerait also studies how other factors affect TSWV such as variety, use of in-furrow insecticide and planting date.

Another aspect of his research is the use of fungicides for disease control. Diseases such as leaf spot and white mold can take millions of dollars to control; however, Kemerait says if they are not managed properly, they could cost tens of millions of dollars in yield reduction from the peanut crop. Kemerait says if growers want to remain profitable, they know they have to fight diseases by taking the research produced at the University of Georgia and integrating it into their production practice, as well as being “upfront” about prevention.