How did you come to make
a career out of peanuts?
I am a fourth-generation peanut farmer,
so my great-grandfather actually got me
into the business of peanuts. Once I earned
my degree in agricultural economics from
Virginia Tech and returned to the family
business, I wanted to start an enterprise
that would add revenue. I started Royal
Oak Peanuts, a gourmet peanut company,
which allowed us to increase our margins
and add value to a commodity that we had
been growing for decades.
What kind do you grow?
There are four types of peanuts that are
grown commercially in the U.S., and we
grow the Virginia variety. Virginias are
the largest of all varieties and the type
typically used in the gourmet business.
Talk about the process.
It’s truly the epitome of a farm-to-table
business. I plant the seed that I grew
for our business the prior year. That
seed is typically in the field growing for
approximately five months. One hundred
percent of our crop yield is processed and
marketed through Royal Oak Peanuts or
used for seed the following year. We will
keep what are referred to as the “super
extra-large” grade to cook and use in our
gourmet products. Other smaller grades are
sold for different purposes, ranging from
candy to peanut butter to wildlife feed.
How do you deal with the
We are concerned about people with
peanut allergy. The last thing I would
ever want is to have a product that
we grow ultimately harm someone.
That being said, less than 1% of our
population has a peanut allergy. That’s
less exposure than milk allergies or egg
allergies. So, as a business, you can’t let
that dictate how you market your product.
You have to be considerate and provide
as much information to those concerned
as possible, but you also need to service
the other 99% of the population. Through
the National Peanut Board, America’s
peanut farmers have spent $10 million on
efforts to support peanut allergy research,
outreach and education.
Talk about uses for peanuts.
Most Virginia-type peanuts are used as
“in shells,” which is the term used for the
ballpark peanuts that are roasted in the
shell. When those peanuts are processed
and shelled, they will yield different
grades of kernels. The Virginias will
have super extra-large kernels, extra-large kernels, medium kernels, No. 2s,
splits and loose shell kernels. Supers are
typically used in the gourmet market.
Extras are typically roasted or used in the
making of candy. Mediums are usually
used for candy, and the smaller grades are
used in peanut butter.
Tell us about a typical day.
Obviously, it depends on the time of year,
but during the growing season, the crop is
monitored daily to determine fertility and
water needs and to assess competition
from weeds, diseases and insects. Most
of our work is combating one to all those
challenges. You are usually working on
more than one of these challenges at
once, inevitably causing more work than
you have time for, which means long
days and sometimes nights.
What is it that you love?
It is the love of the land that makes me
confront the risks of managing a farming
business. Managing those risks are the
biggest challenge. A couple hundred
pounds of yield per acre relates to
thousands of dollars to the bottom line.
But it’s the love of growing things and
maintaining and caring for the land that has
been worked by my family for more than a
century that makes me want to be involved
in such a volatile business.
leT’S TalK To JeFFrey PoPe aBouT . . .
leT’S TalK aBouT…peanuts
What’s the attraction of
Of course, I am biased, but they are
economical, a great source of protein
and, above all, they taste great.
How do you eat peanuts?
Every year when we first start digging our
crop, the best peanuts are those that come
right out of the ground. We walk behind
the digging implements and adjust the
operation while constantly eating those
that have been freshly dug. Our regular
oil-roasted peanuts with nothing added
are awesome, but they are equally as
good when adding spices or enrobing in
chocolate. I probably eat as much peanut
butter as any other human on the planet,
and I love peanut pie. But the absolute
best are the peanuts that come directly out
of the digger.
JEFFrEy POPE IS A PEANU T FArMEr IN DrE WryvILLE, vA.