Rapid and drastic cuts in U.S. peanut acreage are being seen this year, to the point of Virginia no longer being a major peanut-producing state, says Dallas Hartzog, Auburn University Extension agronomist. Hartzog gave an update on peanut acreage during the recent Southern Peanut Growers Conference held in Panama City, Fla.

“Virginia has grown from 90,000 to 95,000 acres of peanuts. In 2005, they grew 23,000 acres, and they'll grow only 13,000 acres this year. That is the death of an industry, and that breaks my heart,” Hartzog said. “No one wants to see peanuts go in that direction. There are a number of reasons for it, but the fact is that there are now several counties in Alabama, Georgia and Florida that grow more peanuts than the entire state of Virginia. Unless things change drastically, Virginia is not going to be a major peanut-producing state this year for the first time in recent history.”

Extension specialists report that Virginia has a good-looking crop this year with tomato spotted wilt virus being their only concern, he says. “Growth is said to be good to excessive primarily because they had 10 inches of rain in June. But sclerotinia blight is favored by excessive vine growth which can devastate a crop in July and August.”

North Carolina has grown from 110,000 to 120,000 acres of peanuts, says Hartzog. In 2005, they grew 97,000 acres and that number dropped to 86,000 acres this year.

“They're growing about 75,000 acres of Virginia-type peanuts and the balance is planted in runners,” he says. “They're looking at runners because they're trying to grow those peanuts with fewer input costs. Managing disease pressure is the No. 1 problem for growers in the Virginia-Carolina region.”

Extension specialists report that North Carolina had a dry spring until May. “Since then, they've had adequate rainfall, and they have a good stand of peanuts. Crop yield prospects are good for now,” says Hartzog.

Georgia peanuts growers had expanded to 755,000 acres but are back to about 580,000 this year, he says. “Central Georgia is very dry, and it's also dry in the western part of the state's peanut belt. The eastern part of Georgia received 2 inches to 5 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Alberto, but that moisture is gone. For the most part, the moisture situation in Georgia ranges from marginally dry to very dry.”

Georgia growers have reported problems with weeds and insects, adds Hartzog. “Thrips pressure was high in some areas, and a heavy incidence of tomato spotted wilt virus is expected where that has occurred.”

In Alabama, growers are about 15 inches short on rainfall for the year, with about 54 percent of normal rainfall to date, said Hartzog in mid July. “We have three conditions — dry, drier and driest. Most showers have been isolated, brief in duration, and have covered a small area. Some growers have not received a good rain since they planted. This year, drought has added immense pressure to an already fragile farm economy in Alabama. In many places in Alabama, we still could make a reasonable peanut crop if we get rain today,” he says.

Alabama's peanut acreage dropped from 225,000 acres last year to 170,000 acres in 2006. The certified acreage could be even less, at about 138,000, says Hartzog. “We are continuing to cut. We have had some expansion in the southwest and into central Alabama, but we're still cutting acres, and we've cut by about one-third. We've taken a lot of acres out of historic peanut land,” he says.

Looking at Texas, it's very dry, says Hartzog. “Only south Texas has received some rain along the coast, but the rest is dry. Historically, Texas and dry, and growers there rely on irrigation. Acreage in Texas is down from 265,000 acres in 2005 to 210,000 acres this year.”

Mississippi acreage could expand

Providing an update on Mississippi's peanut crop was Joe Morgan, executive director of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association.

“Peanuts are not a new crop to Mississippi — they go back many years,” says Morgan. “But for most farmers who are growing peanuts in Mississippi, it's a very new crop. I started growing peanuts in 1989, and I knew of only two or three farmers who were growing them at that time. Peanut production is steadily increasing in Mississippi. The predicted acreage for 2006 is 19,000 to 20,000.”

Looking at the different regions of the state, in 2001, 3,200 acres of peanuts were produced in seven southern Mississippi counties, says Morgan. In 2005, Mississippi produced 14,197 acres, and production was scattered throughout the state. That year, the southeast region had 8,400 acres of peanuts. The southwest and northwest each had about 2,800 acres and the northeast had 220 acres, he says.

“Predicting where we go from here is more difficult,” says Morgan. “In making a prediction, I'll assume four things. The next farm bill must have a peanut loan rate of at least $355 per ton. The peanut handling charges must be resolved so growers don't have to pay for them. Reasonable contracts must be offered.

And new buying points must be built in Mississippi where there aren't any. Our infrastructure is there now, but there's a lot of trucking involved — that will help us.”

If all of these conditions occur, he says, Mississippi could grow from 30,000 to 40,000 acres of peanuts. “The southeast region of the state probably will stay pretty much the same as far as acres. The southwest region could double or triple in acres. The northwest this year had between 5,000 and 8,000 acres. The northeast increased from 220 acres last year to 1,000 acres this year. If conditions are right, the northeast easily could increase to 4,000 or 5,000 acres in the future. The region has fresh land, and farmers there need a crop to rotate with cotton. The farmers who planted peanuts last year in this region made 4,900 pounds per acre on peanuts and 650 pounds on cotton — they're in desperate need of a rotational crop,” says Morgan.

Mississippi has several things going for it as far as peanut production, he says. “We have favorable soils that have never been planted to peanuts. We have a favorable climate, and last year, we had the second-highest peanut yield average, according to USDA. Taking all things into consideration, peanuts have been a good crop for Mississippi, and with the right conditions, they'll continue to be a good crop.”