Coastal Growers grand opening draws large crowd
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A crowd of about 300 — including farmers, bankers, first-term U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville and others — turned out last Wednesday, February 23, to officially welcome Coastal Growers to the local industrial community.
The massive peanut processing operation, an $87 million-plus investment by 195 farm families in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida that covers 60 acres and includes a 65,000-square-foot shelling facility, had already begun doing business by the time last week’s grand opening took place.
Dirk Lindsey, president and chief operating officer for Coastal Growers, said the company, which is expected to spur industrial growth in Atmore and Escambia County, has itself already begun to grow and would hopefully continue to do so.
“We have 64 fulltime employees right now; next year, I think we’ll have over 100,” he said. “We now have nine buying points in Alabama and Georgia, and we just added an existing shelling plant from Tifton, Georgia that has been in business for a long time. So, as of today … Coastal Growers has two shelling plants. That allows us to better service our customers and mitigates drought risk”
Lindsey said the company’s growth can also be seen in the scope of its market.
“There are a lot of reasons we’re doing this, but Coastal Growers is growing,” he explained. “We already ship to 11 countries on three continents. Peanuts from Coastal Growers are in a lot of the products, or will be in a lot of the products, you eat on a daily basis.”
The peanut facility manager thanked dozens of people and organizations for making the shelling operation a reality but paid special tribute to four agriculture lenders — Hancock Whitney Bank, United Bank, Alabama Farm Credit and Alabama Farmers Association (ALFA) — who helped provide funding for the facility and turned a cotton field into a gigantic Agri-industrial complex in less than 18 months.
“This wouldn’t have happened without any one of them,” Lindsey said. “What those organizations did for Coastal Growers is outstanding. In my opinion, without them, we’re not here today.”
Lindsey introduced Tuberville, who defeated incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in 2020 to take office as the state’s junior senator. The first-term congressman gained fame as a collegiate football coach at Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Cincinnati. He said that made things a little easier for him in the halls of the U.S. Senate.
“When I first got to Washington, DC I told them all — when they asked me, what are we going to call you — to call me ‘Coach,’ I earned that,” he said. “When you’ve been dealing with 18-year-olds for 40 years, you earn the right to be called what in the heck you want to be called. When they holler ‘senator’ on the floor, 99 folks turn around; when they holler, ‘coach,’ everybody else just keeps on walking.”
With the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looming (a threat that was validated just hours after the grand opening), along with problems like veterans’ affairs and public health that must be dealt with in DC, Tuberville (the first Alabama senator in 25 years to serve on the body’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee) had trouble keeping his promise of an apolitical speech.
Tuberville recently returned from a trip to Germany. He said the threat of war is evident throughout the U.S. military community there.
“You could cut the tension with a knife,” he said. “I’m not going to get on the political side, but we’re fighting hard for the American way. Guys on my side, we’re fighting for the Constitution, fighting to secure our borders; we’re fighting to lessen crime in the streets, to get the drugs off the streets, fighting to get inflation down.”
“Right now, we’ve got an administration that’s decided they want to do it their way, so we’ll work through it, and come next November, they’ll find out we’re mad at them,” Tuberville said.
Although his address was peppered with references to the peanut processing facility, the senator later reinforced his support by posting the following statement on his official senate website:
“It is great to see the vision for Coastal Growers come to life. In less than a year, this facility has broken ground, opened its doors, employed Alabamians, harnessed the passion for agriculture in the region, and started shipping peanuts across the nation and world. That is no small feat, especially given the pressures of the pandemic on supply chains. I congratulate all who put in the long hours to make this possible and look forward to the continued success of this great Alabama-based business.”
Several local governmental officials attended the event, including Atmore Mayor Jim Staff and City Councilmen Webb Nall and Shawn Lassiter. Escambia County Commissioners Brandon Smith and Raymond Wiggins were also in attendance, as were Sheriff Heath Jackson, and county school board members Coleman Wallace and Sherry Digmon.
“This is great; it’s a good opportunity for jobs, for the economy,” said Smith, who represents District 4 on the commission. “This end of the county is growing. It’s just a good thing all the way around. It’s a good addition to our tax base; I’m proud to have them here.”
Economic development recruiters Tucson Roberts and Jess Nicholas, each of whom helped pave the way for bringing the Coastal Growers plant to Atmore, were also on hand.
“I’m very proud of our effort,” Roberts said. “People don’t really realize the impact this place will have. Not only is it here, but it’s 70 miles around here that farmers are providing the peanuts.
“This is not just a plant; it’s co-owned by the farmers. They have an investment here, so the money all stays here, and that’s a very unusual investment. They’re making a product they can keep making for years and years.”
He added another reason the agricultural factory, which can shell 25 tons of peanuts per hour, should be successful:
“Another thing, the water is constant, and we don’t have a lot of long, dry spells, so this area grows the best peanuts in the world.”