Japanese delegation visits area peanut producers

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Marshall Rabil leads the tour of a Japanese delegation through Hubbard Peanut Company, which is based in Sedley. - SUBMITTED

Marshall Rabil leads the tour of a Japanese delegation through Hubbard Peanut Company, which is based in Sedley. – SUBMITTED

By Lynn Rabil

“Konnichiwa” and “arigato” were the first words spoken as a group of 18 visitors from Japan were welcomed to Hubbard Peanut Company on Wednesday, Sept. 24 to tour the peanut processing operation in Sedley. Sponsored by the American Peanut Council and the National Peanut Board, these buyers were in the United States during harvest time to learn as much as possible about peanut production in the United States. Prior to their Hubs tour, the delegation was welcomed to the United States by Governor Tim McAuliffe during a luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond. Tour stops along the way included Indika Farms, Birdsong Peanuts, Severn Peanut Company and the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Education Center.

Marshall Rabil of Hubbard Peanut Company greeted the visitors in a speech prepared in their native language and led the tour group through the plant’s production area.

Lynne Rabil, president, said, “We were honored to help welcome the Japanese delegation to our little corner of our country and to be able to tell our story. We are celebrating our 60th year in business and although we are a very small business by U.S. standards, we are proud to serve customers all over the world.

One of the things I told them was that when technology advanced to fax machines in the 1980’s and we installed one, the very first order that was faxed to us was from Japan.”

Dell Cotton of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, Patrick Archer, executive director of the American Peanut Council, and several others related to the peanut industry organized and accompanied the Japanese delegation throughout the tour.

“The tour was arranged by the American Peanut Council as a trade mission. The Japanese are interested in sourcing peanuts from Virginia and the Carolinas,” Cotton said. “This area is so diversified. There are a lot of different types of processors and we showed them the variations.”

Jeff Johnson, president of Birdsong Peanuts in Suffolk, also commented on the visit.

The Japanese used to buy a lot of peanuts out of Virginia, basically from 1970 to 1990. They switched to Chinese origin because the peanuts were cheaper. Since 1990, they buying most of Virginia-quality peanuts from China.”

But two things have changed, Johnson added.

“First, China is producing far fewer peanuts for exports. They’re eating their own peanuts and the prices are also up. Second is a food safety issue. The Japanese don’t like the food safety risks associated with Chinese food products.”

He is hopeful that after 20 years the Japanese will turn back to the United States for buying peanuts.

“The Japanese are generally very loyal,” Johnson said. “In fact, we knew some of the fathers of those visiting. We wanted to remind them of our long history.”

During the tour, the guests saw the food safety and quality standards used by Birdsong and other producers.

“I think the visit was very, very successful,” Johnson said. “They were bowled over by the hospitality.”

LYNN RABIL is president of Hubbard Peanut Co., which is based in Sedley. She can be contacted at 562-4861.

STEPHEN H. COWLES, staff writer at The Tidewater News, contributed to this story. He can be contacted at stephen.cowles@tidewaternews.com or 562-3187.