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Peanut butter boom: Texas peanut farmer keeps a positive attitude amid coronavirus

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DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — Larry Womack rises before the sun and puts on his work boots on for another day on his thousand-acre farm.

“The place we’re on now was my dream place to purchase, and it wasn’t up until two years ago that I got to buy this place,” he said.

Womack has put a lifetime of work into the De Leon dirt. Womack started as a young boy, working alongside his parents on the plot next door.

“I started working for them when I was 12 for about 25 cents an hour, and I got a quarter a raise an hour every year til I was 21 and I hadn’t got a raise since,” he said.

Giving up amid the coronavirus pandemic just wasn’t in the cards for an American farmer like Womack.

“We plan for the worst, we look for the worst and then we try to fix it,” he said. “If you’ve got an optimistic view in farming all the time, you never are prepared for the disasters—a la COVID maybe, right?”

And so is the story of farmers and ranchers from coast to coast — continuing to put food on our tables despite an invisible virus wreaking havoc on the global supply chain.

“It’s just so many unknowns,” Womack said. “I mean, as we all walk into the Super Walmarts or any of our grocery stores, there’s still a little bit of that eerie feeling that not every shelf is packed.”

At the start of the pandemic, items with a long shelf life were scanned at the speed of sound for what many saw as doomsday prep. Texas’s Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said perishables like dairy are reeling in losses.

“Pizza restaurants are closed, Italian food, nobody is buying any cheese,” Miller said. “We had animals that had to be euthanized because those slaughter plants, processing plants, couldn’t run because the employees were sick.”

Miller added: “Not to mention no kids in school to slurp up cafeteria milk cartons. With students at home, the classic PB&J is back on the menu.”

“If you’re going into peanut butter, you’re OK. But if you raise ballpark peanuts….you don’t have a market. There’s no ballgames, there’s no circus, no county fairs.”

So for lucky farmers like Womack who focus on the creamy or crunchy varieties, 2020 has been the year of the peanut butter boom.

Texas is the fourth-largest supplier of peanuts in the country. About 5% of the state’s crop goes toward your snacking pleasure while rooting for your favorite baseball team.

Right now, about 5.5 million bags of in-shell peanuts are sitting on the sidelines.

“Maybe next year’s the unknown. Are we gonna have ballgames? Are the manufacturers and shellers going to be willing and able to give us the price we need to have something we can grow to make money off of? Or will we have to go to another crop?” Womack said.

For now, farmers plow ahead. Those like Womack are staying thankful for what they do: have the crops that are feeding America, and keeping his family farm from cracking.

“I mean hey, we’ll get over this—we’ll survive this as farmers, as a nation. But there’ll probably be something right behind it,” Womack said. “It’s kind of like a hail storm or a weather event. When you walk out the door and you’ve lost maybe 2 or 300,000 dollars. You’ll get over it, but there will be another one. But there’ll be the good times, too. That’s what, when I say the puzzle of farming—it’s just a puzzle, that’s all we’re trying to do is put it together.”

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