Like water in a lake after a hard rain, the shift in peanut acreage had already begun to trickle downstream in the years before the 2002 farm bill. When the floodgates opened in 2003, acreage went rushing in dramatic fashion and changed the landscape of the U.S. peanut belt, says Allen McCorvey, research coordinator with the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness at the University of Georgia. (In addition, as part of its mission, the center is building a GIS database to help promote competitiveness of U.S. peanuts, providing a level of understanding that hasn't been fully utilized up until now.)

The farm bill became law at planting time, when many decisions about the 2002 crop had already been made, thus delaying the effect of the legislation.

Virginia-type peanut acreage left Virginia and northern North Carolina and filled up in southeastern North Carolina and South Carolina.

Increases, and shifts, occurred in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The entire state of Oklahoma harvested their smallest crop on record in 2003. Central Texas also saw dramatic declines.

Two years after the 2002 farm bill, preliminary indications are that the trend will continue, McCorvey told researchers at the annual American Peanut Research and Education Society meeting in San Antonio, Texas, recently. So much so that researchers are beginning to include Mississippi in the southeastern peanut belt, alongside Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The most dramatic change came in the form of numbers showing acreage decreases and increases in two sets of Top 5 counties. McCorvey averaged the acres from 1998-2001 and compared those numbers to 2003.

On the reduction side, Collingsworth County, Texas lost 29,321 acres; Caddo County, Okla., lost 17,362 acres; Comanche County, Texas lost 15, 253 acres; Northampton County, N.C., shed 14,497 acres; and Hall County, Texas, dropped 13,412 acres.

The dramatic increases occurred in two Alabama counties, two Georgia counties and one Texas county.

Baldwin County, Ala., saw an increase of 18,691 acres. (The Gulf Coast Alabama county had already begun to increase peanut acres before the last farm bill after the 1996 farm bill.) Coffee County Georgia saw an 8,853-acre increase. Escambia County, Ala., showed an 8,593 increase. Burke County, Ga., experienced a growth of 7,912 peanut acres and Cochran County, Texas, in the High Plains, recorded a 7,849-acre increase.

Adjacent counties also showed the increase in peanuts, McCorvey says. “We're now adding Mississippi along with the Southeast because of the increase in acreage that has spilled over from Alabama.”

A significant increase in acres occurred in the Southeast. “A lot of the shifts should become more noticeable when the 2004 FSA numbers become final,” McCorvey says.

Traditional production areas in north-central Georgia around Dooly County, down to Terrell County, saw a significant drop in acreage, while a major increase happened in the eastern part of the state from Statesboro to Waycross. Decatur County, Ga., as well as other southern counties along the Florida state line are also showing an increase.

About half of the acres have shifted out of the traditional area of southeast Alabama to the southwestern part of the state. Likewise, Florida has seen a shift, as well as an increase in peanut acres, McCorvey says. Places like Williston, Fla., and the area between Pensacola, Fla., and Marianna, Fla., have seen increases. Counties adjacent to Alabama — Santa Rosa and Okaloosa — have also seen peanut acreage increases.

McCorvey hedges in giving the reason for the trends. He lists yield, then backs up to include rotation and water. “The rotation and irrigation still come back to yield,” he says.

While the 2004 acres haven't been released, preliminary numbers show that the trend in continuing. “The counties that were in the Top 5 of expansion will continue to expand and their numbers may be larger in 2004,” McCorvey says. “It's definitely not going backwards. These counties will reach a point that rotational constraints will force the acreage expansion to plateau.”

Lack of rain could influence these trends. After all, good yields in 2003 did not deter these expansions.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com