Peanut farmers plan more acres, some pushing rotation to supply market

- Brad Haire, Southeast Farm Press

Southeast peanut growers plan to plant more acres than last year in an effort to supply a market that wants more peanuts.

In Georgia, where almost half of the nation’s peanut crop is produced annually, growers indicate they will plant more than 700,000 acres for the third straight year, said Scott Monfort, based on the intentions of farmers surveyed during University of Georgia Extension count peanut meetings across the state’s peanut-growing regions this winter.

For the last two years, Georgia’s peanut acres have stayed above (to well-above in 2015) the 700,000-acre mark. Monfort, the UGA Extension peanut specialist, said that amount of acres planted in Georgia three years in a row is extremely rare. During a typical three-year period, planted acreage will typically dip closer to 600,000 acres (and has dipped below that mark) for at least one season.

So, why is 2017 looking to complete the high-acreage trifecta in Georgia?

It’s the ugly truth everyone knows: cotton, corn and soybean prices in the last two years haven’t flirted to be planted, leaving few viable economic options for cash flow on farms. During that time, peanut acres stayed high despite low peanut contract prices because, at least in part, peanuts offered the best financial and cash-flow option for farmers who could grow them well and grow them on generic-base acres.

Even with higher planted acreage over the last two years, adverse weather coupled with a staunch increase in global and domestic peanut demand has eaten well into any surplus the industry faced. This year is different. The market is calling for an increase in planted acres.

“Demand for this year’s crop is up and contract prices are up ($450 to $500 per ton or better for early contracts). Supply is lower, and we’re planting this year in reference to that higher demand,” Monfort said during an interview Feb. 28.

In speaking with other state peanut specialists, Monfort said most peanut-states will plant at least as many acres as they did last spring, along with a likely increase of 10 percent to 15 percent across the Southeast. Texas will likely pull back on dryland acres because harvest was bad for dryland last year. But Texas growers indicate they might make up some of those dryland acres by planting more peanuts on irrigated land.

Cotton might woo away some acres from peanuts in the Southeast. Cotton prices have pulled out of the ditch over the last several months and futures prices have nestled in the mid-70-cent range, capturing Southeast growers’ attention, if not yet their planters.

Though peanut farmers intend to increase acreage to better grip a tighter market, it comes with risk and at a cost. To sustain a high number of peanut acres over three years, Georgia farmers are pushing rotations and earlier planting dates, which, as they know, increases risk for disease and nematodes. According to the Georgia peanut meeting survey, growers say 15 percent or so of their acres this year will be planted to a short rotation of two years or less.

“You can’t take your foot off the peddled and cut costs with a short rotation, and with the high number of acres, growers will plant some peanuts in April, which we know puts us at a much higher risk for tomato spotted wilt. We’re sitting on one of the warmest winters and springs in a long time and we have not had enough cold weather to kill back nematodes. Disease is abundant on residue and will become active early such as leaf spot and white mold. With thrips populations remaining high due to the lack of cold and hanging around on weeds, and we have volunteer peanuts coming up in places now, with all that, spotted wilt, which has been trending higher on us recent years, will likely get a quicker start on us, too.”

Domestic per capita consumption of peanuts topped 7.4 pounds in 2016, almost a pound more than just four years ago. The increase equates to more than 100,000 farmer stock peanuts. If you factor in oil stock, per capita consumption was about 8.6 pounds in 2016.

Certified peanut seed samples coming into the state seed lab are on par this year, according to Billy Skaggs with the Georgia Crop Improvement Association.

“Certified peanut seed samples coming into the state seed lab have looked quite good so far. Germination results have held strong with the great majority of lots in the 85 percent to 95 percent range,” Skaggs said. “While there have been a few lots with A. flavus mold, it does not appear to be a widespread problem, and overall, germinations have remained very uniform across the board.”

Source: Southeast Farm Press