By Lindsay Stevens
In 2012, the National Peanut Board (NPB) hired Bob Parker to take over as president and CEO. Parker had grown up on a peanut farm, worked for Golden Peanut Company, and had close to 40 years of experience under his belt.
“When NPB needed a new president, I recommended him to some of the NPB members,” said George Birdsong, CEO of Birdsong Peanuts. “I said that they should consider Bob even though he had a sheller background! I said he is always honest and professional. Thankfully, NPB hired him and his service to the growers and the entire peanut industry has been outstanding.”
In the time Parker has served the industry, a lot has changed. We’ve gone from having open-air tractors to precision agriculture tools. Research has pushed forward, and peanuts have gone from being a food allergy poster child to an ally.
(L-R): Chef JJ Johnson, Margaret Ann Parker and Bob Parker at NPB’s Perfectly Powerful Peanut Pop -Up in New York City in 2015.
Peanut Allergy Journey
At its seating in 2000, the members of the very first Board for NPB recognized their potential to be part of the solution. To that end, NPB has invested more than $36 million since its inception toward food allergy outreach, education and research. NPB provided funding for Dr. Gideon Lack’s 2008 study and the LEAP study, which was published in 2015. The LEAP study laid the foundation for new guidelines about peanut allergy prevention. While there was financial support, Parker’s role as a grandparent of a child with a peanut allergy helped connect him on a deeper level.
Parker met Dr. Brian Vickery, allergy/immunology division chief and founding director of the Food Allergy Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, while visiting UNC-Chapel Hill for his grandson’s evaluation.
“We immediately built a relationship over our Georgia roots and shared love of Bulldog football and became allies in the fight against food allergy through research,” Dr. Vickery said. “Subsequently, Bob was instrumental in championing my efforts to bring a food allergy research center to Atlanta, and he and NPB have remained steadfast supporters. Throughout the time I’ve known him, he’s always been a regular presence in our professional meetings, traveling all over the world to engage with thought leaders, learn, and advance initiatives to prevent allergy in the first place through early infant feeding a major scientific breakthrough that was made possible by NPB funding.”
In addition to continuing NPB’s efforts to eradicate peanut allergies through funding research, Parker started to attend various allergy conferences and build positive relationships with food allergy advocates. One important connection was with Eleanor Garrow-Holding, president and CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT).
“Without Bob’s leadership and NPB, FAACT would not have been able to accomplish all that we have through the years — along with all the research that you have supported,” said Garrow-Holding. “Bob is leaving a legacy and should be very proud. Thank you for all you have done for the allergy community and our families — and for your friendship.”
(L-R): Kaley Volkmann, Golin, and Parker at the 2022 Next Gen Food Summit in Napa, California.Photo courtesy of Kristen Loken.
Peanut Production Research
Allergy is not the only area that has changed substantially in the past few decades. Significant advancements have been made in peanut production research as well. The 197475 crop year saw 3.7 billion lbs. of peanuts harvested (1). The 2021 crop was 6.4 billion lbs (2). The impact of research over the past 50 years cannot be understated and the increased yields are a direct result.
Since its founding, NPB has funded research projects related to leaf-spot resistance, the peanut genome, aflatoxin risk and more. Parker has prioritized what he feels will make the biggest impact and also has served in leadership positions in other organizations to see how NPB can help.
“My interaction [with Bob] is primarily through his strong support of research,” said Steve Brown, executive director of the Peanut Research Foundation. “Bob has served on the board of the Peanut Research Foundation and has been a clear leader impacting the direction of the Peanut Genome Initiative. The enormous impacts of that initiative will continue for years after his retirement. His advice and friendship have been invaluable to me personally.”
(L-R): Andy Bell, 2021 NPB Chairman, Bob Parker, David Spector, who spoke at the event for Japanese journalists and influencers about his love for peanut butter while growing up in America, and Mark Kaiser, an Alabama grower, at an American Peanut Council Trade Mission in Japan in 2019.
Perhaps one of the greatest impacts Parker has had on the industry is his dissemination of knowledge. Parker has served as a well of knowledge since he has worked in almost every sector of the industry. The knowledge he has passed along will continue to aid the peanut industry for the years to come.
“From my first day on the job, Parker has been a colleague I could go to for insights on how all aspects of the peanut industry work,” said Richard Owen, American Peanut Council president. “He was able to pull from his vast sheller experience, as well as his time leading growers at NPB. He is a master facilitator, knowing when to pull stakeholders together to address a common issue.”
Parker served as a constant in the peanut industry for 47 years. While his legacy will leave a lasting impact, Bob’s leadership presence at the helm of NPB will be missed.
(1) Rattner, Steven. “Peanuts: From Carver to Carter.” The New York Times, 24 Aug. 1976, p. 37.
(2) “Peanuts.” Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Apr. 2022, www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/nuts/peanut-profile.