A record 2012 U.S. peanut crop had the industry worried about a huge carryover that would depress prices. But, say peanut organization officials, strong demand — particularly unexpected demand from China — has helped brighten the picture considerably.

“What’s exciting is that, in a year when we need to sell more peanuts than we ever have before, the Chinese have come into the U.S. market and are buying quantities of peanuts that I would’ve never imagined in my lifetime,” says Bob Parker, the new president and chief executive officer of the National Peanut Board.

“Part of this is being driven by supply issues that occurred as a result of crop problems in India, reducing their ability to export to China. And we’re hoping the U.S. will be able to retain part of the huge Chinese marke for peanutst,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association at Hattiesburg.

“We have a record crop from 2012 — a very high quality crop — and this unexpected demand from China will help us find a market for a lot of these excellent U.S. peanuts.”

Parker says he’s “excited about this opportunity to serve the National Peanut Board and America’s peanut farmers. As I look at our plan of work for 2013, it becomes apparent that our overriding mission needs to be centered around improving grower economics — selling more peanuts so growers can get more money, and focusing on production research so they can become more efficient, make higher yields, and reduce input costs.

“These are the factors we’re going to look at with each program we embark on.”

Malcolm Broome, executive director of the Mississippi grower organization, says last year’s crop across the U.S. “was the best in our industry’s history.

“Mississippi had a 4,400 pound yield average, which is outstanding. We’d been leading the industry in yields since we became a member of the national peanut organization, but Georgia edged us into the No. 2 position in 2012 with a 4,550 pound average.

“We had ideal growing season weather in Mississippi, and a widely-planted new variety, GA06, yielded really well.”

The 2011 crop shortage as a result of Texas’ extreme drought resulted in a nationwide shortage that pushed up 2012 contract prices — as much as $1,0000 per acre — and resulted in widespread acreage increases across the peanut belt.

“We got a bumper crop on more acres, which resulted in a surplus of peanuts, and that will affect the industry in the months ahead.”  But, Broome says, “China’s purchases have certainly been welcome to help reduce that surplus.

“We would normally would expect to have some peanut contracts on offer by this time in the year, but at this point there are none. We know our growers will be facing a lower price for 2013 peanuts, but hopefully there will be a price that will offer them a profit potential — particularly in situations of peanuts versus dryland corn or maybe even dryland soybeans and cotton.

“There’s no doubt Mississippi acreage will be down from last year, but this may be an opportunity for those who don’t have irrigation to rotate out of peanuts. We’re we’ll have a decent crop year, and there are plenty of peanuts to carry us through the year.”

One benefit of the large supply, Broome says, is that “consumers ought to be seeing cheaper prices for peanut butter and other peanut products in the supermarkets.

“We’re still excited that peanut production will stay in Mississippi and we look for it to continue to grow in the years ahead. We had around 48,000 acres last year, but our average acreage is only around 20,000, and I would think we will certainly be above that.”