Let's try this one more time. A second referendum to determine whether U. S. peanut growers want to continue funding the National Peanut Board as a research and promotion tool has been scheduled for Aug. 16 through Sept. 17, 2004.

Questions regarding the validity of the peanut grower mailing list used to distribute ballots for a May/June referendum resulted in the votes being nullified, according to NPB. “It was an unfortunate turn of events,” said Raffaela Marie Fenn, NPB president and managing director.

Fenn and Donnie White, NPB grower representative and incoming chairman from North Carolina, discussed the upcoming referendum and the need for an industry-wide research/promotion vehicle with Farm Press staff during the recent Southern Peanut Farmers Federation meeting in Panama City, Fla.

Nullification of the first referendum was frustrating, Fenn said. Changes in a decades-old peanut quota system apparently resulted in some entities included on the master list who should not have been; others who should have been included were left off.

“We don't see that anyone was to blame. It was really just an unfortunate development,” Fenn said. “The NPB executive committee has indicated an urgency to get the referendum completed, however.”

One positive development, Fenn said, is that with a better list the referendum will provide a fair assessment of how growers view the importance of NPB as a vehicle for promotion and research.

Although this was a hiccup, if this can help us be more accountable to the producers, then there's a silver lining, she said.

White said eligible growers should receive new ballots in early August. The U.S. Department of Agriculture must receive ballots no later than 4:30 p.m. EST Sept. 17 to be counted.

Eligibility requirements include:

Producers must have paid a national checkoff assessment between Oct. 1, 2003 and April 30, 2004.

Farmers who grew peanuts for the first time in 2003 and placed them into Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loan are not eligible unless they redeemed peanuts by April 30, 2004.

Fenn said producers with questions or who do not receive a ballot by Aug. 16 should contact USDA marketing specialist Deborah Simmons at (888) 720-9917 or e-mail at deborah.simmons@usda.gov.

White encouraged producers to participate in the referendum.

“I've always believed in promotion,” he said. “I worked with soybean promotions and for various state associations for years.”

White said the research effort made possible by NPB checkoff funds help keep U.S. peanuts competitive. “We have to lower our production costs,” he said. “And we can't discover a problem today and expect research to find a solution tomorrow. It takes time.”

White said the makeup of the NPB, representing all areas of the peanut belt, provides a unique and effective forum for solving production and marketing problems.

Peanut allergies

“We've developed into a body of friends and family,” he said. “We may have differences but we talk and work them out and then communicate with one voice. Our votes have always been unanimous.”

White said continued research into peanut allergies may hold a key to increased consumption. “Only a few have the allergy,” he said, “but if one of them happens to be your child, it's a crucial issue. We want to find solutions and we want to provide information so people know what to do.”

White said NPB also works with agencies such as the Foreign Agricultural Service to fund international promotion efforts. Combined funds, he said, allow the industry to do more in foreign markets.

“We're looking for research and promotion opportunities that will help the American peanut farmer,” he said.

The NPB, established in 2000, promotes peanuts to both domestic and global consumers and protects the image and identity of USA-grown peanuts, Fenn said. “And, through NPB, peanut growers sponsor research directed at reducing input costs and increasing yields.”

To ensure accountability, a continuance referendum must be held every five years.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com