The big jump in peanut acreage in Mississippi and Arkansas this year is “a very positive thing” for growers by providing them a new source of income and crop diversification, and for the industry by strengthening its influence in Washington, says Bob Redding.

“We’d like to see even more growth in peanuts in this region,” he said at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s summer peanut commodity meeting at Grenada, Miss. “Mississippi and Arkansas farmers think like other peanut growers across the South, and they have similar farm structures, which is helpful in working on issues and legislation important to the industry.”

Redding, who lobbies for the industry in Washington, said, “Your members in Congress understand agriculture. In a time when the number of legislators representing farmer interests is shrinking, your delegations continue to be closely involved in agriculture issues and have been very helpful in advancing legislation of benefit to the peanut industry.

“We are concerned about the shrinking number of members of Congress with a focus on agriculture, so we have to be more politically active. What we really need, particularly in Mississippi and Arkansas, as more farmers are growing peanuts, is for them to identify themselves as peanut farmers.

“When you meet with or talk with members of Congress and congressional staff, make sure you impress on them that the peanut sector and peanut policy are important to American agriculture.

“You have some senators and representatives Washington who are very helpful to agriculture, but we need for them to understand that the peanut industry is growing in these states and that we need their support for peanut policy.”

Unfortunately, Redding says, farm programs dominated by Midwest interests often give short shrift to southern growers and southern crops.

“In the spring, I went to a joint trade show of Florida/Alabama peanut growers; they had a record crowd — I’d never seen that many producers in attendance. The message from those growers, in discussing farm policy, was, ‘We recognize our nation is in a fiscal crisis, and we want to do our fair share to help.’

“But my message to them was, ‘That’s not what this is about. Agriculture has made it’s contribution for this farm bill, whether it ends up with $23 billion in cuts or $33 billion. What we’re talking about is the residual — the money that will be left for Title One or commodity programs.

“Midwestern farm groups and some Midwestern members of Congress have a really good idea: They want to take all the residual money and put it into Midwestern, one-size-fits-all farm programs. They want to take money from southern farm programs, plus their money, and put it into programs that work for their commodities — and only incidentally hope those programs will work for us.  But they don’t — they don’t work for us.

“We know there are going to be significant cuts in ag programs, and we’re pretty sure direct payments won’t be in the final package. The real question is, what happens after that? How do we get a program that is similar to our traditional countercyclical-type program that still protects us and still has some value?

“This is my seventh farm bill since 1981,” Redding says, “and the focus in the peanut industry has been, ‘Let’s get a program that we believe will work for our growers, and let the score be what it may.’ That’s the approach we’ve taken with the 2012 bill, too.”