Will there be a shortage of peanuts by the time the 2012 planting season rolls around next April and May? 

Weather in the last 40 days of the 2011 crop season will have a partial answer to the question, but the big answer may come from the final tally on the 2010 crop.

If peanut growers are looking for high prices for their peanuts, the 2011 and likely the 2012 crop may be the most valuable on record. On the other hand, getting supply and demand so far out of kilter gives these crops the potential to be the most destructive on record to the entire peanut industry. 

A perfect storm  is brewing,  consisting of a poor quality in 2010 crop, a lower than expected planting acreage in 2011, a poor growing season in 2011 and growing demand for peanut products.

If all these factors come together, it could be a devastating storm for the peanut industry to weather.

Whether we will run out of peanuts by the end of the 2011 growing season is still open to debate and highly dependent on harvest-time weather.

There is considerably less doubt that we will run out of edible peanuts before the 2012 crop is planted.

The 2010 peanut crop was good one! Or was it? From a yield standpoint it was good — national average was just over 3,400 pounds per acre, but from a quality standpoint, the 2010 crop was one of the poorest in history, rivaled only by the 1980 crop.

“Had it not been for improved technology since 1980, in the area of blanching and resorting, we likely would have had a shortage of edible peanuts last year,” says Jim Leek, president and owner of JLA International.

Leek, who spent many years analyzing the peanut-food industry for Procter and Gamble and subsequently has tried his hand at growing peanuts, says the 2010 U.S. peanut crop was the most expensive in history to clean up.

The 2010 crop, he says, appears to have had the highest level of aflatoxin of any crop since the drought plagued 1980 crop. When all is said and done, he adds, the 2010 crop may prove to have had the highest levels of aflatoxin — ever.

Leek says from his perspective, there is better than a 30 percent chance that by the time this year’s crop is dug, we will run out of peanuts.

As of mid-July, there were less than 550,000 tons of peanuts in the U.S. pipeline. It takes 150,000 to 160,000 tons per month for the U.S market. Even with ideal harvest time weather, it will be a tight fit to get 2011 peanuts into the pipeline before we run out.