Probably some of the best advice for farmers recently came from Auburn University Extension agronomist Dallas Hartzog, who, incidentally, was talking about the very subject of taking and giving advice. Speaking to a roomful of growers interested in planting peanuts for the first time, Hartzog told them the most important decision they might make this year would be deciding from whom they'll take advice.

As Dallas said, there are a lot of people giving out advice, and your most important job this growing season could be sorting it all out, throwing out the bad and keeping the good.

This will be a unique production season in the lower Southeast, with a record number of peanuts being grown in what has long been considered “non-traditional” peanut production areas. In Georgia alone, farmers have increased their peanut acreage by an estimated 21 percent. Earlier this spring, South Carolina growers stated intentions of boosting their acreage by a whopping 57 percent. Smaller acreage increases are expected in Alabama and Florida. So this year will represent a learning curve of sorts for those producing peanuts for the first time.

In seeking advice about growing peanuts, Dallas recommends that farmers first go to someone who already is a producer. The guy who is putting it in the ground is invaluable to you, he says.

To find one of these seasoned growers, you need only think back to some of the Peanut Profitability Award winners you've read about in the pages of this publication. You can be assured that these farmers are doing it right — making the most profit from the least amount of inputs. But the grower you go to for counsel certainly doesn't have to be an award winner. A lot of farmers have been doing a good job of growing peanuts in the Southeast for a long time, and most of them would be happy to share their experiences and expertise.

Of course, Dallas and the other dedicated members of the Cooperative Extension Service staffs in the Southeastern states are more than willing to offer the knowledge they've gained from many years of walking farmers' fields and conducting countless research trials. Extension specialists like Hartzog, John Beasley of Georgia, and Ben Whittey of Florida have devoted their careers to helping farmers. But they can't help if you don't ask.

In addition, there are the many fine county and regional Extension agents who can be counted on to respond to a farmer's needs at a moment's notice.

Many of these first-time peanut growers are desperate for a profitable rotational crop for cotton, which has paid the bills for years. But lint yields are now being reduced by nematode infestations. Peanuts undoubtedly will be helpful for rotational purposes, but some growers might be disappointed in the prices they receive for their first crop.

Nathan Smith, a University of Georgia Extension economist and another one of those from whom you should be seeking advice, says the idea of several more acres of peanuts being planted in 2005 along with lower prices expected for cotton, corn and soybeans has many folks wondering what peanut prices will do this season.

The threat of over-production will keep peanut prices lower until there's a more accurate idea about the size of this year's crop, says Smith. Spring contracts offered $20 per ton above the loan repayment rate on a limited quantity per acre. This is a change from last year, he says, when most of the runner peanut production was contracted at $45 per ton above the loan repayment rate. A significantly smaller portion of the 2005 crop will be priced this spring and summer, says Smith, so growers should examine all strategies for marketing their crop.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com