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Birdsong Peanuts finds bumper crop in Darlington

Birdsong Conveyor

Birdsong Drying Jets

Birdsong Loading Tanks

Birdsong Runners

Birdsong Shaking Room

Birdsong Virginias

Birdsong WarehouseBy Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer
slyles@newsandpressonline.com

With its first peanut harvest season coming to a close, things are starting to calm down at the new Birdsong Peanut buying station in Darlington. After investing some $47 million this past spring to purchase 65 acres of property on Hwy 52 Bypass and develop the facility, Birdsong is reaping a bumper crop that will, hopefully, translate into future expansion and more jobs for our area.

In Darlington County and the Pee Dee area, our sandy soil is perfect for growing these versatile legumes, including the large Virginia peanuts and the more useful and popular Runner variety. Also, peanuts partner well with cotton, making them an ideal choice for farmers looking to expand into new crops.

Farmers retrieve a peanut drying trailer from Birdsong, take the trailer to their field and fill it with peanuts, then bring the truck back to the buying station. The trailers are hooked up to propane-powered fans – each as loud as a jet engine – which blow air through ventilation ports beneath the trailer floor. Depending on the outside temps, the forced air could be heated up to around 98-degrees Fahrenheit to speed the drying process along.
Using large vacuum probes, federal and state inspectors take several random samples from the drying trailers and grade the peanuts. This exhaustive procedure covers too many factors to explain here; suffice to say that peanut grading is a complex task best left to the experts.

“It’s probably one of the more complicated commodities out there,” says Birdsong’s Darlington plant manager James Dargan. “Every farmer you talk to says understanding peanut grades is more complicated than cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans – anything.”

Among many other things, inspectors check the amount of foreign material present, measure kernel size, check for mold, and count loose or broken kernels before assigning an overall grade. That grade determines the amount of money Birdsong will offer for the crop.

“Usually, we do a contract with the farmer before they plant saying that we’ll pay them a certain amount of money for their peanuts per ton. That’s an average price, and it could go up or down once the crop is graded,” Dargan says.

Once dried and purchased, the peanuts are dumped into a large grate (via the use of a hydraulic ramp that tilts the trailer) and swept up by the bucketful into a rotating elevator. Some fifty feet overhead in the shaker room, the peanuts are deposited on large screens and vibrated until free of sand, then conveyors roll them over to the warehouse.

That warehouse currently holds some 10,000 tons (some 20 million pounds!) of dried peanuts awaiting transport to Birdsong’s Suffolk, Virginia shelling plant. Dargan says if plans hold and crops remain this strong – or get even better – Birdsong will eventually construct a shelling plant on its Darlington property. This could mean upwards of forty new jobs, in addition to the current staff of five full-timers now working on site.
“There’s not a shelling plant in South Carolina right now,” Dargan says. “Birdsong came to the area thinking this was going to be the new great place for the peanut market to expand. The soils are good, and now with the new farm bill it’s even a better opportunity.”

Walking the property’s developed 20-acre plot, one can see the spacious grassy field in back that borders on a rail spur – another factor that makes the site attractive for expansion. In the future, shipments of shelled peanuts could be loaded into cars and transported via rail from Darlington to feed people all over the world. And with a company as big as Birdsong, that is no overstatement.

“Right now, Birdsong is the biggest peanut sheller in the United States… they sell to Nestle, Jif, Hershey – anything you eat with peanuts in it, there is a good chance there’s Birdsong peanuts in it,” says Dargan.

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New S.C. Rep Pursuing Lawsuits Over Pre-Election Statements in ’12

By Rick Brundrett, The Nerve

As the S.C. House returns next month to debate a proposed rule that critics say would discourage citizen testimony before legislative committees, an incoming freshman representative is pursuing defamation lawsuits against two supporters of his opponent in the 2012 race.

Newly elected Rep. Greg Duckworth, R-Horry, filed separate suits in December 2012 against an Horry County couple, Charles Collins and Bren Gibson, contending they defamed him in separate online letters to the editor, which asked readers to support then-Rep. Tracy Edge in the June 2012 Republican primary.

Gibson is president of a nonprofit citizens’ group known as Conservatives for Responsible Government. Collins heads communications for the group, which describes itself in organizational literature as “promoting legislative accountability and effectiveness through transparency throughout all levels of our local, state and federal government.”

The letters to the editor that are the subject of the lawsuits do not mention the organization. Collins told The Nerve he and his wife were not members of the group when the letters were written.

“This is nothing more than vindictiveness because he (Duckworth) thought we cost him the race the last time around,” Collins said about the suits.

Added Gibson, “Through this suit, he has been successful in taking away the voice of the people.”

Edge, who was first elected to the House in 1996, defeated Duckworth in the June 2012 primary but lost to him in this year’s June primary. Duckworth faced no formal opposition in this month’s general election for the two-year seat.

The suits allege that Collins and Gibson defamed Duckworth by claiming in letters to the editor in the online edition of the (Myrtle Beach) Sun News that Duckworth, who runs a landscape architectural and land planning firm, used his position as a North Myrtle Beach City Council member to make money for his business.

Collins and Gibson in court papers deny they defamed Duckworth and contend that a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects political speech. They also claim in court papers that Duckworth did not follow state law on several occasions in recusing himself from votes or public discussions while on City Council.

The couple on Oct. 28 filed a motion in Horry County Circuit Court seeking to throw out the suits.

Duckworth declined comment when contacted Thursday by The Nerve, referring questions to his attorney, Billy Monckton of Myrtle Beach, who could not be reached for comment.

With his election earlier this month, Duckworth will be joining the Horry County delegation, which includes GOP state Sen. Greg Hembree, the former solicitor for Horry and Georgetown counties and a law partner with Monckton.

“This is not only an attempt to suppress speech, but the most important kind of speech – political speech,” said Myrtle Beach attorney Reese Boyd, who is representing Collins and Gibson, when contacted Friday by The Nerve about the lawsuits. “If a State House member can sue a member of the general public for a letter to the editor of the type that is at issue here, then the 1st Amendment has been turned on its head, and it means nothing.”

In a June 7, 2012, letter published on myrtlebeachonline.com and titled, “Return Tracy Edge to state House,” Collins said Duckworth had been on City Council for 11 years and “used his position for personal gain,” claiming that Duckworth, as a subcontractor, “obtained a significant portion” of funds spent on a sports complex project approved by City Council. Although Collins noted that Duckworth abstained from voting on the project, he wrote that Duckworth was “touted as a major part of the design team.”

“He has mainly worked to support crony capitalism within the council by voting his support of projects that have enhanced his wealth and the wealth of others on the council,” Collins wrote.

Gibson wrote in her June 9, 2012, online letter, titled, “Re-elect Edge, a man of integrity,” that Duckworth  “obtained many contracts to work on city contracts, the latest being the new sports complex in North Myrtle Beach,” adding, “In most states, Mr. Duckworth would be in violation of public servant ethics laws because of his position on City Council.”

Duckworth filed separate defamation lawsuits on Dec. 5, 2012, against Gibson and Collins, contending in each that the allegations in their letters were false, and that publication of the letters was “done with actual or implied malice.”

The suits contend Gibson and Collins each “intentionally, recklessly, willfully inflicted severe emotional distress and was certain that such distress would result from conduct towards the Plaintiff,” adding, “The conduct of the Defendant was so extreme and outrageous that it exceeds all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in today’s society.”

The suits seek unspecified actual and punitive damages.

In their official responses, Gibson and Collins denied that the statements in their letters were false, and that because Duckworth was a public official campaigning for public office when the letters were written, he is considered a “public official” and “public figure” under the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.

The justices ruled in that case that to prove a defamation or libel case, the public official bringing the suit must show that the published allegations not only were false, but that the defendant acted with “actual malice,” meaning that he either knew before publication that the allegations were false, or published it with “reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

The ruling established a higher standard of proof for public officials compared to defamation or libel cases brought by private individuals.

In another legal issue connected to the defamation suits, Duckworth admitted in a written response to questions from Gibson and Collins that although he recused himself from discussion on various matters at a May 2, 2011, North Myrtle Beach City Council meeting, the minutes of that meeting did not contain, as required by state ethics law, a written statement from him giving his reason for the recusal.

That’s important, according to Boyd, because the public has a right to know why officials decided not to participate in certain votes or discussions.

“You’re supposed to explain why you have a conflict, and that needs to be part of the record,” he said.

House members are expected to discuss rule changes dealing with legislative ethics and other matters at the chamber’s post-election organizational meeting on Dec. 2 and 3. The heightened attention to rules comes in the wake of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s resignation from office following his guilty plea last month to six charges of spending campaign funds on personal expenses.

One of the proposed House rules, as The Nerve reported Friday, would require citizens who want to testify before House committees to be first sworn in under oath, and that anyone deliberately giving false testimony would be guilty of contempt of the General Assembly, a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison.

Some citizen activists, however, believe the proposed rule – authored by GOP Reps. Bruce Bannister of Greenville County and the House majority leader, Kris Crawford of Florence County and Alan Clemmons of Horry County – could be used by lawmakers to intimidate citizens they don’t like from testifying before their committees.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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Clemson vs. Georgia State

Coach Dabo Swinney  congratulating big play in second half.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney congratulates his team after a  big play in second half.

By Joe Willis

Clemson Vs. Georgia State

# 24 Marcus Caffey breaks a clemson tackle for a small gain.

Georgia State’s Marcus Caffey 

By Joe Willis

 

Clemson vs. Georgia State

Clemson quarter back, Cole Stoudt looking for open receiver during first half.

Clemson’s Cole Stoudt 

By Joe Willis

Clemson Vs. Georgia State

Interception by # 20 Jyron Kearse.

Clemson’s  Jyron Kearse.

By Joe Willis

 

Clemson vs. Georgia State

Germone Hopper reaching for the ball during 3rd quarter

Clemson’s Germone Hopper 

By Joe Willis

Clemson vs. Georgia State

by Joe Willis

Clemson’s Tyshon Dye 

By Joe Willis

 

 

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Clemson vs. Georgia State

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Clemson’s Adrien Dunn

by Joe Willis

South Carolina vs. South Alabama

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South Carolina's Brandon Wilds. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Carolina’s Brandon Wilds. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Carolina vs. South Alabama

South Carolina's Damiere Byrd. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Carolina’s Damiere Byrd. Pete Cochran/Union County News

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South Carolina vs. South Alabama

South Carolina's defense makes the stop. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Carolina’s defense makes the stop. Pete Cochran/Union County News

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South Carolina vs. South Alabama

Dylan Thompson and Steve Spurrier talk things over. Pete Cochran/Union County News

Dylan Thompson and Steve Spurrier talk things over. Pete Cochran/Union County News

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South Carolina vs. South Alabama

South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper. Pete Cochran/Union County News

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South Alabama's Braedon Bowman. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Alabama’s Braedon Bowman. Pete Cochran/Union County News

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South Carolina vs. South Alabama

South Alabama's Braedon Bowman. Pete Cochran/Union County News

South Alabama’s Shavarez Smith. Pete Cochran/Union County News

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