Texas grower Brent Nelson said earlier this year the company had been good to growers by making partial payments initially following the shut down last year and that company representatives announced plans for follow up payments. Nelson said the closing of the plant last year caught all parties by surprise and created many hardships not only for the plant but for growers as well.

“Our peanut harvest last year was one of the best we have had in recent times. This was true for many growers across the region. We depended on the Portales plant and don’t have a lot of options for selling our crop outside of Sunland,” he told Farm Press earlier this year.

Sunland limited peanut purchases to high-grade Valencia varieties because of their natural sweetness and long maintained a working relationship with regional growers, some of whom were quick to defend the company after FDA inspections last year.

Some growers expressed concern that the FDA's punitive action that closed the plant last year may have been tied to the government's intent to send a message to other food processors.

"I think maybe the FDA wanted to set an example because of the string of salmonella outbreaks last year and the year before, so Sunland may have been the one the inspectors finally targeted to make that message clear," Nelson said.

Now that the plant faces permanent closure, peanut growers in the region will need to scramble to find another buyer, a development that may further hurt growers who were adversely affected by Sunland's closure last year.

The plant was one of the largest employers in Roosevelt County. As a result, the Portales City Council authorized $150,000 in economic development funds for Sunland last year to help cover some of the costs incurred as a result of its sanitation plan, according to Portales City Manager Tom Howell.

“The purpose of that money was to help them get through requirements of the FDA,” Howell said after the funds were awarded to the company last year.

Howell and company officials were not available for comment on this latest development.



Also of interest on Southwest Farm Press:

Texas farmers are unintentional victims of FDA closure of Sunland

Peanut plant puts workers back to work, pays some farmers

Bad news for New Mexico farming town