Alright people, let’s quit beating around the bush and address the elephant in the room. The elephant who, if I didn’t know any better, I would accuse of being the source of our issue. Quite frankly that issue is, we’re facing a peanut shortage. It’s true; it is not a conspiracy to ruin my breakfast or your favorite childhood snack. It’s a downright honest-to-goodness shortage. So let’s all quit glaring at that elephant (ya know, I really even wonder if elephants even like peanuts, I think that might be the conspiracy) and face the truth.
The average American consumes over six pounds of peanuts or peanut butter and peanut butter products a year. Most of us just put it on bread or toast. But I’ve known some goofballs that actually like to have it mixed in with chocolate or even ice cream. It’s blasphemous I know, especially for any of us that, rightly, know that chocolate is perfection all by itself. But I digress; in actuality, peanuts are consumed in all matter of fashion and form ranging from the ever-favorite peanut butter, to peanut oil and of course good old fashioned roasted or raw whole peanuts.
Peanuts are thought to have been originally cultivated in Peru and archaeologists have dated specimens as old as 7,600 years. Over those thousands of years though this popular little legume has found its way all around the world and even to the moon thanks to Allen Shepard. They’ve also made their way to Antarctica and the Arctic. Apparently back at the turn of 20th century, way before we had compact energy bars, peanuts were the go-to expedition food as they were packed with fats, calories, protein and didn’t need to be cooked before eating. They’ve been a deciding factor in life or death situations for many early expeditions.
Cotton and drought conditions
Alright, enough with these tasty tidbits of random information though—where have all the peanuts gone?! The current peanut shortage is being attributed to two main contributing factors. The first being the high price of cotton and the second is the recent drought conditions in the Southeast and Southwest of the U.S. You might be saying to yourself, “What does the price of cotton have to do with the lack of peanuts for my peanut butter?” The plain and simple answer is that the price of cotton this last growing season was almost double that of its highest record price in the last 30 years and this has caused many farmers who traditionally grow peanuts to transition to growing cotton. The price of cotton has jumped so drastically partially due to flooding in India, China and Pakistan last year, which are traditionally major cotton producers. Additionally, inventories of cotton have been low due to the recession and China’s growing demand for cotton. All of these factors contribute to the initial rise in the price of cotton. Then you throw in the speculators and the prices jump up again. All these price increases make the idea of growing cotton over peanuts much more enticing to many American farmers.
To be fair though, let’s look at the other factor that has greatly influenced the lack of this year’s peanut harvest, the drought that hit the American South this last year. Meteorologically speaking this recent drought was due to a La Niña weather pattern. La Niña weather systems typically create hot and dry summers, especially in the south and southeastern areas of the U.S., where the majority of peanuts are grown. The U.S.’s top two peanut-producing states are Georgia and Texas; these are also two of states that were hit the hardest by the recent drought. Peanuts require an annual rainfall of 20 to 40 inches for optimal growing conditions. San Antonio, Texas, for example, only had 17.5 inches of rain for the entire year of 2011. Their typical average rainfall amounts to about 29 inches a year. This is a shocking blow to the little peanut plants, especially when you factor in the crippling heat that has accompanied this drought. This coming growing season looks questionable as well. Early predictions indicate that the La Niña system will continue to affect the Southern states at least through spring this year. Hopefully the rest of the growing season will be more hospitable.
I’ve recently checked in with our main bulk peanut supplier, East Wind Nut Butters, and they report that they won’t have any supply until the 2012 harvest comes in sometime mid-September to October. East Wind currently supplies us with almost all of our bulk peanuts, including those for our nut grinders. They also produce packaged peanut and almond butter which, for the most part, has still been available as has been the majority of brands and varieties that we offer. For those of us that enjoy snacking on peanuts though, we’re going to be in for a bit of a rough ride. Our Bulk Buyers here at the Co-op have tried several brands and suppliers to no avail. These coming months may be a good time to delve a little deeper into the world of nuts and maybe try a few you’ve not before.
Let’s hope that this season is a better one for the peanut farmers out there. I don’t know about you all, but I know that I’ll be lost without my morning peanut butter English muffin!