Peanut Butter Grief

by Roxanne Bergeron

Greetings, peanut butter lovers!

I am here today to share some good news and some bad news about peanut butter—that sometimes crunchy, sometimes smooth, always delectable protein-packed favorite of kids and grownups alike.

First the good news—June 12 is National Peanut Butter Cookie day! To help you celebrate, there is an outstanding Peanut Butter Blossom recipe at the end of this article.

Now the bad news—the high price of the recipe’s star ingredient may leave you scratching your head. It may, as one customer joked, stick to the roof of your mouth.

All kidding aside, peanut butter prices took a big ol’ jump last fall, and the explanation for the rise begins with last summer’s drought in the southeastern United States, which wreaked havoc on the Georgia peanut crop. This is significant because Georgia is the top peanut producer in the United States, providing nearly half of all the peanuts grown in the United States; and about half of all peanuts grown are used to make peanut butter.(1)

John Beasley, a University of Georgia agronomist, estimates that the Georgia peanut crop was 30% smaller than usual in 2011.(2) Overall peanut production in 2011 was 3.6 billion tons, down 13% from 2010.(3)

The reasons for the drought in the southeast are a point of contention. Some experts blame a La Niña phenomenon on the West Coast.(4) Others call that short-sighted and urge the consideration that climate change is changing the “background conditions” for “extreme drought.”(5)

Whatever the cause for the lack of rain and the extreme heat that blistered the South last summer, economic forces also played a role in rising prices. More handsome projected prices for corn and cotton—natural partners in crop rotation with peanuts—compelled some farmers to plant the alternative crops for the sake of business coffers.

Factor in a shortage of leftover peanut supplies from the 2010 crop, whisk in the drought, and you
have a textbook example of supply-and-demand driving up prices.(6)

Hampden Park Co-op’s bulk prices certainly reflect this trend. “The most amazing is the organic peanut butter price,” said Marcia Hanson, one of the HPC buyers. The price had gone from $4.65 a pound last September to $6.99 a pound on March 1.

Bulk peanut butter from HPC’s regular source, East Wind, is not available now and not expected to be available until the next peanut crop; so the bulk in the store is from Bergin, a local nut supplier, who is using peanuts from as far away as Brazil and Argentina, said Hanson.

Peanut butter’s reputation as a great alternative to the high price of meat is faltering in the face of rising prices. This is a sobering fact, considering that since 2008—the year the economy crashed—the USDA cites a 10% increase in the use of peanut butter in U.S. households.(7)

Food shelves are hurting, including the Keystone Midway Food Shelf supported by HPC. Peanut butter, a kid-friendly, culturally neutral, and shelf-stable staple, is pricey; and availability to food programs has become spotty at best through the USDA Commodities Program.(7)

Paul Jacobson, the Midway site manager, explained that the food shelf receives commodity materials from the USDA program called TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program). Peanut butter is a great thing to have on hand to make a small, protein-rich meal when the cupboards are lean, he said, and is currently available to needy individuals and families. Unfortunately, their TEFAP peanut butter restock supply has dried up completely.

Speaking of dried up—are you wondering if any Minnesotans are involved in drought? The answer is yes. A peek at Princeton University’s drought monitoring and hydrology forecast Web page on February 9, 2012, which shows the U.S. Drought Monitor, revealed the Twin Cities and the upper part of Minnesota had D1, or moderate, drought conditions (the drought range is D0–D4), with the lower half of Minnesota experiencing D2, or severe, drought conditions. A swath of D3, extreme, and D4, exceptional, drought conditions still plagues a big chunk of south Georgia, the southern portion of South Carolina, and northern Florida.(8) The drought picture in the United States can be tracked at the U.S. Drought Monitor Web site.(9)

All mixed and measured, this many-angled peanut-butter-drought issue constitutes a serious
situation, no? So, please, donate generously to the food shelf, whip up some yummy cookies, and look for a change in the weather.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

1¾ cups flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
½ cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
Extra sugar for rolling cookies
48 milk chocolate candy “kisses”

Heat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, soda, salt, shortening, peanut butter, milk, vanilla, and egg. Mix at low speed until stiff dough forms. Shape dough into 1–inch balls. Roll the balls in the extra sugar and place them 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 375°F for 10–12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and press a candy kiss firmly into the center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheet and cool. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

[Roxanne Bergeron is an HPC volunteer and regular contributor to the newsletter.]



References and suggested reading:

1. http://extension.uga.edu/agriculture/crops/peanuts/

2. www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/09/28/140873567/pricier-pb-js-in-the-fore...

3. http://money.cnn.com/2011/10/14/markets/peanut_butter_prices/index.htm

4. www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/us/12drought.html?_r=1

5. www.climatecentral.org/blogs/new-york-times-writes-a-searing-drought-sto...

6. www.texaspeanutboard.com/

7. www.chow.com/food-news/99510/newest-luxury-food-peanut-butter/

8. http://hydrology.princeton.edu/~luo/research/FORECAST/current.php

9. http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
10. The recipe is the 50th Anniversary Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe winner.