...The economics of the peanut industry are in no way as precise and frictionless as a nut’s journey from ground to jar. Though their hands may never touch the plant itself, farmers and shellers and buyers are all part of a web of power dynamics that shift dramatically when the winds change at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or bad weather damages the crop. Too often, it’s the farmers who feel like they’re shouldering the risk burden for the entire industry. That’s why, in 2014, a group of farmers in southern Georgia banded together to build a shelling plant of their own. They wanted more control over the system.
In less than two years, Premium Peanut—their shelling plant—would become the largest in the world. But it came at a price of $50 million and considerable risk for its stakeholders. Shelling plants are abundant in Georgia. It seems like it would be easier to negotiate for better terms with shelling companies than build something new from the ground up. Why did they have to start from scratch? Well, the answer is complicated.