Southwest peanut farmers may have dodged a bullet, or a snowball, when an early winter storm covered parts of the Texas High Plains with up to 10 inches of snow.
Much of the crop was in jeopardy as farmers had taken advantage of any dry days to invert peanuts and hope to get clear weather to field dry them. Prolonged freezing temperatures could have ruined any peanuts already dug and inverted. But the snow cover could have been a blessing.
“I talked to Otis Lee Johnson in Seminole and he said that he didn't think the snow had hurt the peanuts at all,” says Shelly Nutt, Executive Director, Texas Peanut Producers Board. “Gaines County got mostly moisture, ? inch, and the temperature did drop to below freezing but not for long and because the ground was wet, he didn't expect any damage.
“I also talked to Jack Simpson at Birdsong in Brownfield and he said the same thing, no damage but certainly time to get the peanuts out. We need some sunshine.”
Some reports indicate temperatures dipped as low as 28 degrees but snow accumulate may act as an insulator for peanuts already inverted. Area observers report from 50 percent to 60 percent of the crop remains to be harvested. That could equal up to 150,000 tons of peanuts.
The winter storm that hit much of the Texas Plains dumped more rain on Oklahoma and further delayed harvest.
Rain has been troublesome for farmers trying to harvest peanuts for most of the fall, according to Texas Extension Service reports.
“(Rain is having) a drastic effect on harvest,” says Charles Simpson, professor emeritus with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Stephenville. He says the problem is especially pronounced in West Texas where excess moisture has slowed harvest, but has not affected yield so far.
“If it continues to rain, it will [affect harvest] because West Texas is getting to a point (that farmers) must get the peanuts out of the ground, and nearly 50 percent is still in the soil,” he said.
Simpson says freeze damage poses the biggest threat as delays continue. “Frozen peanuts are worthless. If it gets down to 28 degrees and stays for three or four hours, the crop will be severely damaged.”
Nutt says rain has caused more problems than delayed harvest. “We've had diseases never seen before in this part of the country,” she says, “diseases normally seen in the southeastern United States.”
Sclerotinia blight is one concern. This disease kills the plants and makes the stems break away from peanut. When the plant is pulled from ground during harvest, the peanuts stay in the ground.
Botrytis, another rarely seen disease, is expensive to treat and resembles sclerotinia blight. Farmers confuse the two and may spend a lot of money treating the problems, Nutt says.
Todd Baughman, Extension peanut specialist in Vernon, says more common diseases include pod rot, leaf spot and tomato spotted wilt virus.
Texas ranks second in the nation in peanut production, producing half the volume of Georgia. Texas farmers annually plant 330,000 acres of peanuts, with 220,000 planted northwest of Abilene, Simpson says.