"Very little information is available about peanuts' cost of production or the total peanut operation," said Stanley Fletcher, coordinator of the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness and economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Producers of other major U.S. crops, such as corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice, already have this type of information, he said. Dairy and swine operators have it, too. Peanut farmers need it.
The industry is in a transition stage now, Fletcher said. In the past, the U.S. government regulated, through a price-support system, how peanuts were sold.
But that's changing.
And farmers need to know how these changes will affect their bottom lines.
It would be nice to know, for example, exactly how a decision in Washington or a new growing technique might affect each peanut farm in the Southeast. But that would be impractical, if not impossible.
So experts with the peanut center are doing the next best thing: they're building representative model farms.
Each farm is a composite made by five or six farms of similar size, location and production practices from 10 growing regions in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina. County extension agents helped select the growers.
"Any time an issue comes up from a regulatory- or policy-type avenue, we'd be able to take these (model) farms and see how they'd be impacted," Fletcher said.
This type of information would allow peanut farmers to know ahead of time how an issue might affect their farms. So they'd be better able to consider how to respond.
"Say that water becomes restricted," Fletcher said. "We can run this through (the models), analyze it and see how it will affect the viability and the cash flow of the operation."
The peanut project has been developed using similar, nationally recognized models developed for other crops by the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M.
It's funded by the farmer-supported National Peanut Board through the Southeastern Peanut Research Initiative.
The center is also involved with an in-depth peanut survey that will gather information from 700 to 800 farmers in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
"The producers that have been contacted need to make sure they participate in this survey," Fletcher said.
The survey, coupled with the representative farms, could help ease the peanut industry through its current transition. It should make the "what if ... ?" less daunting than it's been in the past.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)