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 acres 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,” says Hartzog. “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.

North Carolina has grown from 110,000 acres 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.

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 peanut growers had expanded to 755,000 acres but are back to about 580,000 acres 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 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.

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.

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 is dry, and growers there rely on irrigation. Acreage in Texas is down from 265,000 acres in 2005 to 210,000 acres this year.”

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.

Peanut production is steadily increasing in Mississippi. The predicted acreage for 2006 is 19,000 to 20,000.”

“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 these conditions occur, he says, Mississippi could grow from 30,000 to 40,000 acres of peanuts.

Mississippi has several things going for it as far as peanut production, he says.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com