Photo courtesy National Peanut Board

Wholesale peanut prices have skyrocketed, and we can expect to feel the pinch very shortly, as peanut butter prices are expected to rise dramatically over the coming weeks.

According to weekly peanut prices posted on the USDA’s Farm Service Agency website (see the research I do for you?), peanut prices have been climbing steadily throughout 2011, going from a low of $543.06 per ton in January, to this week’s high of $1,203.26 per ton.  The FSA has reported a severe peanut shortage.

Two questions come to mind:

  1. What happened?
  2. What does this mean for me?

Two things happened to affect this year’s peanut crop: a drought, and the failure to plant enough peanuts. First off, farmers noticed that the price of cotton was spiking, so instead of planting peanuts they planted cotton, in the hopes of making a quick buck. Then, a lack of rain in the Southeast and Southwest devastated the already-smaller crop. Add to that a bout of crop disease, and you have a recipe for peanut prices going through the roof.

There’s (of course) a board of peanut people dedicated to the promotion and marketing of the delicious little groundnut: The National Peanut Board. I sent them an email asking for more information about the peanut shortage and how it may affect comsumers, and I received the following not-really-an answer within a longer, spin-filled release:

A combination of factors ― including rising energy prices and severe heat and drought throughout peanut growing regions this year ― are leading to a peanut crop that is smaller than last year. As a result, some peanut butter manufacturers have recently announced they expect to raise prices.  Still, according to the National Peanut Board, the cost of one serving of peanut butter (equivalent to one ounce, or two tablespoons) would increase less than four cents, from 12.7 to 16.5 cents.

So, let’s do the math: a jar of peanut butter is usually 16 ounces, and and increase of 3.8 per ounce would mean that your jar o’ Jif is gonna cost you about 61 cents more. My guess is that it goes even higher.  Hopefully we’ll still be able to find it – Trader Joe’s, which makes its own line of organic peanut butter, has discontinued it. But, hey! We don’t have a Trader Joe’s in the Capital Region!

So, what to do? I will not be quitting peanut butter – that’s like asking me to quit breathing.

Buy local, maybe? Saratoga Peanut Butter Company is my favorite brand, but they already charge $6.00 for a 16oz jar of the plain and plain/chunky varieties (more for their flavors and organic varieties). And that price is only if you buy it directly from them, like at a farmers market. Hannaford carries Saratoga Peanut butter, but the price is about $6.79 per jar there. Note: I sent them an email asking how the shortage will be impacting them, but I never heard back.

Switch to other nut butters? Maybe, though they are already more expensive – a 12oz jar of almond butter costs about $5.99. But, once the peanut butter price spikes, this may prove to be more economical.  Whatever you do, please don’t switch to supermarket brands or even name-brand peanut butters – those are filled with sugar and hydrogenated oils.  You don’t need that stuff.

My advice is just this: eat less peanut butter for now. Prices will go back to normal eventually, just like any other commodity.

Oh, and one more thing.


Some Peanut Facts:

  • The United States produces 1.88 million metric tons of peanuts per year.
  • In the US, seven states account for approximately 99 percent of all peanuts grown in the U.S. Georgia (41 percent) grows the largest proportion of all peanuts followed by Texas (24 percent), Alabama (10 percent), North Carolina (9 percent), Florida (6 percent), Virginia (5 percent), and Oklahoma (5 percent).

    Photo courtesy National Peanut Board
  • There are four types of peanuts grown in the US: Runner, Virginia, Spanish, and Valencia
  • There are enough peanuts in one acre to make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches
  • Americans consume more than 600 million pounds of peanuts, and 700 million pounds of peanut butter per year.  That’s a little more 2 pounds of peanut butter per person per year. Probably more, though, since every kid seems to have a peanut allergy these days. Still seems low to me, though.
  • It takes about 540 peanuts to make one 12-ounce jar of peanut butter.
  • People who live on the East Coast prefer smooth peanut butter, while West Coasters prefer chunky. Like that’s a surprise.
  • Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.
  • A serving size of peanuts is one ounce (28 grams) – which is equivalent to 28 whole peanuts or about a handful.
  • Peanuts have more than 30 nutrients and contain more protein than any nut — seven grams per one ounce serving.
  • More than 90 percent of American households have one or more jars of peanut butter in their pantry.
  • January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day