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Sunland peanut plant auction results on hold

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A longtime, family-owned peanut processing business from North Carolina — with current operations in Portales — will have to wait until Monday to see whether its apparent winning bid in the auction to buy the defunct Sunland Inc. peanut plant is accepted.

Bankruptcy Court spokesman Norman Meyer said late Friday that there had been some “further developments” that he could not elaborate on and the hearing that began Friday would resume Monday at 1:30 p.m. in court in Albuquerque.

Hampton Farms officials said if they do officially win the bid, they would inspect the Sunland facilities “and then once again produce peanut butter there,” Tom Nolan, Hampton Farms vice president of sales and marketing, told the Journal in an email.

“We currently produce peanut butter products at two facilities in North Carolina which are distributed across the entire U.S. The Portales facility would enable Hampton Farms to produce peanut butter in New Mexico, closer to both the source (growers) and our customers in the Western U.S.”

The company has been operating facilities in Portales since 1997, when it acquired the Portales Select Peanut Co. It has more than 100 full-time employee in Portales who shell, roast and package peanuts and peanut products.

Ready Roast Nut Co. of Madera, Calif., initially had offered $18.5 million for the plant, which closed in October 2013 on the heels of a financially devastating federal shutdown. The plant was ordered closed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after a nationwide salmonella poisoning was linked directly to the Portales peanut processor.

Hampton Farms challenged the bid from Ready Roast. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma then authorized an auction that took place Thursday.

Hampton Farms, owned by the Barnes family, began farming peanuts in 1917 in northeastern North Carolina, according to the company’s website. It has roasting and production facilities in Severn and Edenton, N.C., Springfield, Mass., and Portales.

Sunland once was one of the largest employers in Roosevelt County with a staff of more than 120 and worldwide distribution of its products. It was the nation’s largest producer of Valencia peanuts.

Sunland owes its three major secured creditors about $14 million.

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