Delta Peanut Plans Shelling Operation in Jonesboro

Delta Peanut Plans Shelling Operation in Jonesboro
Tommy Jumper aims for his Delta Peanut LLC processing plant to open in the first or second quarter of 2020. (Micheal Pirnique)

JONESBORO — Tommy Jumper stood in a 71-acre field of dreams as he spoke about plans to build a peanut shelling plant.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission approved site plans for the project last month.

When they build it, an estimated 90,000 tons of peanuts will come to be processed.

The creation of Delta Peanut LLC is a bright spot for the local farm economy in the wake of low commodity prices and a trade war.

"There's just a lot of excitement," Jumper told The Jonesboro Sun. "Because we've added, already, a tremendous amount of value to the community and we haven't even shelled the first peanut yet."

Jumper, who retired after 32 years with the Jimmy Sanders seed production and sales company, began dreaming of helping local peanut farmers add value to their crop about four years ago. He visited individually with producers, then in late January, he invited 100 of them to a daylong meeting to discuss the idea of building a plant.

He didn't know how many would show up. As it turns out, 235 came to listen.

By Feb. 15, Jumper received the required $28 million in equity from about 60 farmers or farm entities from as far north as Sikeston, Missouri, and south to northern Louisiana.

Not only did the farmers invest in the plant, they committed to grow more peanuts than they had in the past.

"We've already planted the 2019 crop; we've got right at 30,000 acres of peanuts in production," Jumper said. "Our farmer member-owners have worked really, really hard to get this crop established. But except for a few little water potholes here and there, they've got the crop up. It looks good."

The expanded acreage means the need for more equipment. Jumper said those farmers have invested more than $10 million in new implements.

"Peanut combines, peanut diggers, peanut delivery carts — all those things — those guys have bought from the local farm implement dealers," Jumper said. "The lenders who helped to work with them to provide them funds to make that investment, so there's already that money that's turned over, and we haven't even broken ground yet."

Components for the state-of-the art shelling plant are under construction now in Georgia. In the meantime, Delta Peanut will construct a warehouse and several drying sheds and a shipping and distribution facility on the property. This fall's crop will eventually be processed when the shelling plant opens in the first or second quarter of 2020, Jumper said.

Construction of the C.W. Post Road facility and a remote buying point at Marianna will represent a $70 million initial investment. The two locations are expected to employ a combined 125 to 135 people.

Delta Peanut will also take over the commission agreement of the Baltz family buying point in Pocahontas.

While local farmers have been growing peanuts for several years, their crops have to be shipped either to southern Georgia or west Texas for processing. Those plants put higher priority on their local crops.

Jumper said the shelling plant helps member-owners control their future.

"The farm economy around our traditional commodity crops is really, really challenged for the farmer to create any margin at all," Jumper explained. "With cotton, prices, rice prices and soybean prices the way they are there's huge, big risk and no real good profit opportunity. And our guys up here have been growing peanuts long enough to prove to themselves that farms in our area can very dependably raise very high quality peanuts."

The shelling operation will almost double the value of the peanuts produced by the farmer-members of Delta Peanut, he said. It also puts them close to two peanut butter manufacturers — Jif in Memphis and Skippy in Little Rock.

Members of the new company's board of directors are: Chairman David Wildy of Manila, Len Nall of Lake City, Sandra Kennett of Leachville, Jason Felton of Marianna, Russ Hoggard of Portageville, Missouri, and Greg Harris of Senath, Missouri.

Construction will begin as soon as all governmental permits are in place, Jumper said.

(Information from The Jonesboro Sun. All contents © copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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