“But the last few weeks, I’m hearing producers talking about going to a little more cotton, primarily because the cotton price has come up. I figure Mississippi acreage will be at least where it was last year, maybe up just a little bit.”

Until recent changes in the commodity markets, Mike Powell, peanut specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, was expecting an increase in Mississippi peanut acreage to perhaps as much as 25,000 acres this spring.

“But the last few weeks, I’m hearing producers talking about going to a little more cotton, primarily because the cotton price has come up. I figure Mississippi acreage will be at least where it was last year, maybe up just a little bit.”

That’s not to say that peanut prices have been disappointing. Howell says Mississippi growers took advantage of an early contract for 2010 peanuts at $450 a ton, “which is no longer being offered. Right now everything is at loan ($355 a ton). There’s no guarantee, but I think we could see the $450 a ton contract again later in the season.”

According to USDA figures, 2009 U.S. acres planted to peanuts dropped 28 percent from the previous year, with every peanut-producing state reporting fewer planted acres. This led to a nearly 30 percent decline in crop size from the previous year, as production dropped from 5.162 billion pounds to 3.627 billion pounds. Mississippi produced 64 million pounds of the legume in 2009. Across all peanut-producing states, average yield declined from 3,426 pounds to 3,353 pounds per acre.

USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings survey reports Mississippi producers expect to plant 25,000 acres in 2010, which would be a 19 percent increase over the previous year.

U.S. peanut producers intend to plant 1.2 million acres to peanuts in 2010, an 8 percent increase over last year, but still below the 1.5 million acres planted in 2008.

Peanut producers across the Mid-South are hoping for good weather to get peanuts in the ground this spring and out of the ground this fall.

About 2,200 acres of the state’s 22,000 planted acres were not harvested in 2009, according to Howell. “We were not able to get the equipment in the field to harvest all the peanuts. It was a tough year for us all the way around. The northeast part of the state was hit a lot harder than the rest.”

Despite the unwelcome harvest weather, “Our peanuts held on remarkably well,” Howell said. “We had another real good crop in the field, but we just weren’t able to get it all out.”

Yields of harvested peanuts in the state, “averaged about 3,500 pounds per acre,” Howell noted. “Two years ago, the state had its best yields ever, averaging 4,000 pounds per acre. That was a tremendous crop.”

Howell says the wet weather heightened disease pressure in the crop toward the end of the season, and he’s concerned this may carry over to 2010. “I’m afraid the inoculum is out there. We’re going to have to be more aggressive this year controlling disease.”

Lucedale, Miss., peanut producer Mike Steede, who is also an Extension agent for George County in Mississippi, agrees. “Last year, we saw an increase in white mold across the region. Late in the season, we had more rain than I’ve seen in my lifetime. That set up perfect conditions for fungal growth.”

Steede, who is beginning his third year of peanut production, says most peanut producers in southeast Mississippi, “go with a one-to-one rotation with cotton and peanuts, to help them manage disease pressure in peanuts. All the research shows that the more years between peanut crops you have, the better crop you will harvest.”

Steede, who planted about 100 acres of peanuts in 2009, rotates his peanuts with vegetables or corn.

Wet weather last fall resulted in a 50 percent reduction in yield for Steede’s peanut crop. “We got most of our peanuts out of the ground. The problem was that while we were waiting for the peanuts to dry, it rained for three weeks straight. Everything that was still in the ground that should have been harvested the following week, stayed in the ground. And when we dug them, we left a huge percentage in the ground. It threw us in a bind.”

Meanwhile, “the peanuts on top of the ground began to deteriorate, and when we picked them, they would fall off. It was a nightmare year for peanuts.”

Surprisingly, the quality of harvested peanuts held up well, according to Steede.

Howell says that the peanut variety Georgia Green “is on the way out in Mississippi. We won’t have as many acres as we’ve had in the past. There is a lot of interest in Georgia 06G and Florida 07. Some of the newer varieties have a better disease package and the yield potential is a good bit higher.”

Mississippi peanuts are grown in three areas, southeast and northeast Mississippi and in the area around Port Gibson. Today, there is only one buying point for peanuts in Mississippi, located in Aberdeen, “which is growing bigger every year,” Howell said. A buying point in Rolling Fork closed in 2009.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com