June 27, 2012 Edition

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Future looks bright
for peanuts in LawCo.

Brian Atkins with Birdsong Peanuts talks with Don Cavenaugh after the June 14 Lawrence County Chamber quarterly meeting. Atkins discussed progress on the buying point being constructed near Portia, as well as how the company hopes to impact the local economy.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt
Gretchen Hunt

Brian Atkins with Birdsong Peanuts spoke to Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce members at their recent quarterly meeting sharing progress on the new buying point being constructed in the county, as well as information about the industry and its future in the area.

"We are excited about Arkansas," Atkins said. "We like you because you have sandy soil and water."

Atkins stressed that growing peanuts should not put a major stress on the water supply, though.

"One thing we have is an abundance of water," he said. "Plus, peanuts use less water than rice and make a good yield."

Peanuts are on the rise in Lawrence County and the surrounding area, and Birdsong expects to have between 30 and 50 farmers working with the company this year.

The company, which has been owned by the Birdsong family since 1914, remains privately owned.

"The Birdsong family are tremendous people who are truly committed to peanuts," Atkins said. "They provide 35 percent of the peanut market, with most of the peanuts staying in the U.S."

Peanuts processed by Birdsong are primarily used for peanut butter, with some also used for candy and oil.

Atkins hopes to see more and more of those peanuts come through the company's newest buying point in Portia. A buying point is a cash distribution point for farmers.

They can bring their crop and receive payment.

Atkins said they are expecting to receive peanuts from 8,000 acres, with an expected yield of about two tons per acre. The price per ton can range from $400 to as much as $1,000, but many farmers have already booked their crop, or a portion of it, for $750 a ton.

"If we make a good crop, it will be about a $12,000,000 payout to farmers," Atkins said. "That money will turn over numerous times. An agricultural dollar will usually spend five to six times in a local community."

In addition, Atkins said the company will try to buy local and use local businesses as much as possible.

"There will be a great impact on the local economy," he said.

The company currently employs Chris Henson as plant manager at the Portia location, and recently added Jeff Reese to the staff. They expect to have five full-time employees when they are up and running.

Atkins said Birdsong is committed to growing Lawrence County and being a positive player in the local economy.

"If you look at our buying point, we are building a $10,000,000 facility," he said. "We are committed for the long haul to Arkansas and this area."

The buying point can easily serve farmers in a 150-mile radius, and if the number of acres continues to grow a shelling plant would be the next step. The location of a shelling plant in Arkansas would be beneficial to cut down on freight costs.

Birdsong currently has six shelling plants, that operate 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. Atkins said the 8,000 acres would have to grow to about 50,000 acres to justify such a plant in Arkansas.

"It's definitely not out of the question," Atkins said.

In addition, Atkins sees the development of the peanut industry in Lawrence County as a way to provide for the future of farming.

"There's not a lot in agriculture luring farm kids back to the farm," he said. "This can be the start of something really good."

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