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Acreage, yields equal state's best peanut year
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University Extension Service agronomists credit good management of diseases and a recent doubling of peanut acreage for what they expect to be Mississippi's largest peanut crop ever.
Still with fewer acres than most peanut-producing states, Mississippi growers have 20,000 acres in rotation plans with cotton and corn, primarily in the state's southern counties.
Mike Howell, Extension area agronomic crops agent based in Covington County, said regular rains have helped a late-planted crop come on strong in recent weeks. Farmers have followed a successful 14-day fungicide program to prevent the development of diseases.
“It's hard to believe how good this crop is looking. The rains should have caused more diseases to develop,” Howell said. “If growers spray their fields every two weeks, they don't have to worry about diseases. The only problems come when wet soils prevent them from getting into the fields for timely applications, but that rarely happens in these sandy soils.”
Howell said the plants appear to be “loading up” well. Barring any harvest complications from hurricanes, Howell said growers should meet or exceed last year's averages of just below 2 tons per acre.
Acreage has been increasing since 2002 when Mississippi growers planted 2,000 to 3,000 acres in peanuts. The 2002 Farm Bill removed the quota system and allowed growers to choose how many acres of peanuts they wanted to plant. Some cotton and corn producers are exploring the profitability of peanuts in their rotations.
Robert Martin, Extension director for Issaquena County, said about 1,500 acres of the south Delta are planted in peanuts.
“Some growers may be reluctant to purchase additional equipment and use different management techniques, but peanuts offer some benefits in a field rotation,” Martin said. “They don't require as much fertilizer as cotton in this area. They provide a break in the nematode cycle and help return more organic matter to the soil than cotton. Then cotton and corn provide a break in the disease cycle in peanuts.”
Martin said efforts are under way to establish a buying point for peanuts in Anguilla, which would operate similar to a grain elevator. A market in the south Delta would reduce trucking costs at harvest time.
“If this buying point goes in, more growers may invest in peanut farming,” Martin said. “With cotton and peanut prices at loan rate, peanuts will offer more profit than cotton.”
Mike Steede, Extension director for George County, said farmers will receive about $355 per ton, which is about the same as production costs per acre. Growers probably will begin harvesting around the second week of September. Extension Service representatives plan to help growers determine the best dates by pod-blasting harvested samples.
“We will take samples from the field and blast the hull of the peanut with a pressure washer. Then based on the color of the shell of the peanut, we will determine when to harvest,” Steede said. “Because it's an underground crop, growers need help knowing when it's time to harvest. If they wait too long to harvest, they will leave peanuts in the ground. If they harvest too early, then they lose production. Immature peanuts dry up and will blow out of the back of the combine.”
In the mid-1940s, Mississippi farmers planted as many as 55,000 acres in peanuts, but yields were only around 400 pounds per acre.