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By RUSSELL TURNER
The new peanut processing facility on US 98 in New Augusta had an official unveiling earlier this week, a few months after opening for business.
Mississippi Peanut, LLC welcomed local and state officials for a tour of the facility and luncheon on Monday. Those in attendance included members of the Perry County Board of Supervisors and other county officials, New Augusta Mayor Steve Spicer, members of the town’s board of aldermen and a host of area farmers and peanut producers. Also on hand was Mississippi’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson.
“Agriculture has always been the largest industry in the state of Mississippi, as well as the No. 1 employer, the No. 1 engine for Mississippi’s economy,” Commissioner Gipson told those in attendance as they gathered near the facility’s cleaning unit. “It keeps this economy running and I commend y’all for getting this thing running.”
Up and running is the right terminology, since the speed at which the facility was brought into operation was a topic of many of the discussions taking place on Monday. Working with partners such as Golden Peanut Company, Mississippi Peanut LLC was able to turn the old Southern Forest Products pole yard into a modern facility for buying and selling peanuts produced not only in Perry County, but in other parts of the region as well.
“We had a very short window to work with,” said Reed Rogers, Golden Peanut’s Area Procurement Manager for Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. “We had a group of growers that teamed up with us to make it happen.”
Among those growers are local farmers Joe Morgan and Van Hensarling. Morgan, who now resides in Brooklyn but still farms several hundred acres in the county, said his farm had grown peanuts since 1991, but this is the first year any of his peanuts have been processed in Mississippi.
“It feels good,” Morgan said. “The Lord has always blessed us and we had another fair yield this year, despite a lot of very wet weather.”
Morgan said he was excited to be a part of this and to be able to market his peanuts through a local facility.
In all, the company was able to process 10,000 tons of peanuts since it opened this past October, according to the facility’s Buying Point Manager Peyton Lott.
“We had peanuts from six farms in Perry, George and Forrest counties,” Lott said. “We anticipate adding additional farms and doing 15-20 thousand tons next year.”
“We have a good group of local farmers that are behind us and who have been extremely helpful in this process. We just need to add more farms from around the state and region.”
Lott said peanuts are dried, graded, cleaned and stored at the facility before being shipped by truck to buyers.
“That is the integral part of the whole system,” Malcolm Broome, Executive Director of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association, told a reporter from WDAM-TV. “You can grow the peanuts, but if you don’t have a place to deliver them and sell them, then the market will be no good.”
“That’s what the buying point is for. The quicker they can turn the trailer around and get it back to the field, then they can continue picking peanuts.”
How much the facility will ultimately impact the local economy and community remains to be seen, but it is definitely off to a good start. Local government officials and business people hope to see it continue to grow.
“Agriculture is the top industry in the state and we have a lot of peanut farmers right here in Perry County,” Perry County Board of Supervisors’ President Tim Wise said. “We are proud that this facility is located here.”
“We want to do what we can to help them be successful.”