Staff and Wire Reports
Recent storms brought much-needed rain to the peanut belt
Staff and Wire Reports
ALBANY, Ga. — Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley brought much-needed rain to parched Southern peanut fields, but growers say they still need regular showers and moderate temperatures over the next three to four weeks to maximize yields.
Georgia’s $2 billion peanut industry provides 38 percent of the nation’s peanuts, most of them for peanut butter. With weeks of dry weather and near 100-degree temperatures, the crop was on the verge of a disaster until a cold front brought scattered showers last week.
Tropical Storm Bonnie added another four inches in some parts of Georgia. Then Hurricane Charley swept up the coast, bringing relief to dry peanut fields in southeastern Georgia.
Like Bonnie, it traveled northward, showering the peanut fields of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
“In general, all over the peanut belt, it helped improve the crop,” Ocilla grower Armond Morris said of the recent rainfall. “But it’s going to take some more rain to finish the crop.”
The federal Agricultural Statistics Service rates the crop mostly fair to excellent in Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. With the infusion of moisture, there were fewer peanuts in the poor category this week.
Florida officials, still assessing agricultural damages from the deadly hurricane, did not file a crop report this week, but before the storms, they were reporting a fair to excellent crop.
Peanuts are in a critical stage known as “pod fill,” when the kernels need moisture to fill the shells.
John Baldwin, a University of Georgia peanut specialist, said growers will need two to three inches of rain a week for about the next 40 days. The harvest will be in full swing by mid-September and continue through mid-October.
“Each day they lack rain or have extremely high temperatures, we drop our yield potential,” Baldwin said.
The news has been good for the Valencia peanut as well, which brings with it good news for Sunland, Inc. in Portales. Sunland CEO Jimmie Shearer agreed that the rain had been uneven for some peanut farmers, but the rain has pretty much helped everybody.
“It’s been really sporadic,” Shearer said. “There are some farmers who received a lot of rain and some who received less, but overall it’s been fantastic.”
Shearer added that the peanut crops are about the best they’ve been in 10 years, and the timing doesn’t hurt — Sunland is scheduled for a plant expansion next month, which will triple its peanut butter production.
“That helps,” Shearer said. “We always need more peanuts as we grow.”
Shearer said that 90 percent of the nation’s Valencia peanuts are grown within 100-mile radius of Portales, and the Sunland plant processes 80 percent of the nation’s Valencia peanuts.
U.S. growers are expected to produce a 4.3-billion-pound crop this year, 4 percent more than last year and 30 percent more than in 2002, when southeastern growers struggled through a drought during the growing season and then excessive rain during the harvest.
The USDA’s Agricultural Statistics Service predicts Georgia will harvest 575,000 acres, 35,000 more per acre than last year, with yields of 3,300 pounds per acre, 150 pounds less than the record 3,450 pounds per acre last year.
Growers in all nine peanut-producing states, stretching from Virginia to New Mexico, are expected to harvest about 1.4 million acres, about 100,000 less than last year, with average yields of 3,198 pounds per acre, 39 pounds more per acre than in 2003.
Tyron Spearman, who publishes an industry newsletter, said peanut demand is up 10 percent, prices are strong and U.S. producers should face less competition from Argentina and India, where the peanut crops were knocked back by disease or adverse weather.
“Right now is a critical time,” Spearman said. “You need to keep the dirt damp and the temperature down … to produce some good-yielding peanuts.”