On the marketing side, Stanley Fletcher, University of Georgia agricultural economist and research coordinator of the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness, said during the tour that the increased peanut use seen in recent years could be interrupted by supply problems in the coming months.

“In the last three or four years, we’ve been really moving up in peanut use,” says Fletcher. “Peanuts are a bellwether of the economy because peanut butter use goes up during difficult financial times — it’s a cheap source of protein. Since 2009, we’ve seen dramatic increases in peanut use which matches up with the economy.”

Maintaining this increased use will be a challenge, he says. “I’ve heard people say that by the time the 2012 crop year comes around, we might not have peanuts out there because of quality issues last year and possibly issues with aflatoxin this year.

“I’ll put most of the blame for this potential shortage on the manufacturers and a lot of the brokers. They did not look at the research, like that from the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness.

“They were still thinking of the quota days, that there would always be acreage out there. They did not have the same mentality of the corn, soybean and wheat guys, that when the prices bid up, they have to bid up too if they want to keep the acres,” says Fletcher.

The manufacturers put the shellers in a bind this past year, he says, because none of the manufacturers were willing to commit to $600 to $700 contracts. “They didn’t think it would happen, but we had a big acreage drop nationally. In Georgia, you have to go back to 1982 to see acreage so low. They didn’t think they’d have to bid for those acres to get them planted. If they had, we wouldn’t be seeing the acreage drop like this.”

Some of the shellers, he says, tried to do something about the looming acreage drop. “But they could only go so far without the commitment of forward contracting, and that gets to become a cash-flow issue. I put most of this squarely in the laps of those who did not listen to the research and did not understand the data,” says Fletcher.

Data from the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness comes from representative farms — 22 across the country from Virginia to Mexico. “And they have been pretty accurate of what is going on out there on the farm,” he says.

It’s has been more difficult to predict yields in the last few years, says Fletcher, because of improved varieties.

“Some are saying these new varieties, on average, might give you a 500-pound boost.

Our models right now are showing yields of about 3,100 or 3,140 pounds per acre, and this doesn’t include the factor of added yield from the newer varieties,” he says.