The peanut is Georgia’s official state crop; Georgia produces close to half of the peanuts produced annually in the United States. Sylvester, Georgia - in Worth County - is known as the Peanut Capital of the World, and hosts an annual Peanut Festival. Altogether, seventy Georgia counties produce over two billion pounds of peanuts each year, with Decatur, Mitchelll, Miller, Worth and Seminole Counties producing the most peanuts. Of course, Georgia’s most famous peanut farmer is former governor and President Jimmy Carter, who ran his family’s peanut farm and business before getting involved in politics. Most of the peanuts grown in Georgia are the Runner type, approximately half of these go to make peanut butter, the rest are used for snacks or in candy. The soil of Georgia’s coastal plain, along with the warm weather and long growing season, is ideally suited to cultivating peanuts.
Peanuts are thought to have originated in South America, where they were discovered by Spanish explorers, who took them back to Spain. From there they were taken to Africa by further exploration, then back across the Atlantic - African-Americans were the first to grow peanuts in North America. It is not known precisely when peanuts began to be grown in Georgia, but when they did they were clearly very successful. Peanut production was encouraged during World War II - when the total amount of land devoted to peanuts exceeded one million acres. Since then, the amount of land used for peanut production has varied, due to government regulations, demand, and the need to rotate crops. Growing peanuts repeatedly in the same field lessens the total yield; farmers have learned that a three-year rotation works best - so even though the total amount of land used for growing peanuts is now less than it was during World War II, the total yield is far greater. Also adding to the increased yield is better means of treating potential hazards to peanuts - fungus, some insects, and weeds.
An interesting note about peanuts - they are not actually “nuts” at all. Peanuts are legumes, like peas, they grow underground in pods. The peanuts flower does grow above-ground, but the edible part of the plant grows underground. Because of this, and other factors like controlling the previously mentioned hazards, cultivating peanuts requires more intensive work than most other crops. Still, the work pays off, as peanuts are in high demand. In addition to being used for peanut butter, snacks, and candy, the oil from peanuts can be used in cooking. Nutritionally, peanuts are an excellent source of protein, along with Vitamin E, Iron, and several other essential minerals. Peanuts are naturally cholesterol free, another added benefit for heart health.
Besides cultivating peanuts, all aspects of the peanut industry are well represented in Georgia. This includes not only the peanut farmers, but also the buyers, worker who shell the peanuts, manufacturers of peanut butter, snacks and candies, and related industries like peanut storage and transportation. With all of these factors considered, peanuts are not only a healthy and delicious food, but also a major component of Georgia’s economy.