A long, dry spell in late summer coupled with root-weakening coolness in the spring, then rain and cloudiness during picking have led to peanut yields in Virginia and North Carolina that will definitely be down from 2004.

The weather-plagued crop appeared well short of yield expectations as October came to an end.

In Virginia, Joel Faircloth, Extension peanut agronomist, said that the Suffolk County area had timely rains, but most other peanut-growing areas were extremely dry.

“One thing that really hurt this season was that some farms went 30 days without a significant rain,” says Faircloth. “That’s a long time for us. The peanuts sat in dry soils, and the pods weren’t maturing. I think we will see a yield loss from that.”

There were a lot of pod diseases in susceptible varieties, which will worsen the yield picture.

David Jordan, North Carolina Extension peanut agronomist, says the crop looked good early in the season. “But then we had some dry weather. Later, it began raining, but it was sporadic. It was dry for all of our peanut areas in August, and most of them were still dry in October.”

But after many peanuts were dug and ready to be harvested, there were 5 to 10 inches of rain followed by cloudiness. “That led to a lot of mold and damage,” said Jordan. “Some peanuts were bumped down to Seg 2. Then we had wet weather for some time afterward.

“Before harvest, I thought we might average 3,025 pounds per acre. But since we didn’t have a good fall, 3,000 pounds per acre may be more realistic.”

Jordan anticipated a harvest of 95,000 acres, about 10,000 acres less than in 2004.

“I am projecting production of 142,000 tons, but that may be low,” he said.

The October crop report from USDA forecast Virginia-North Carolina production at 359 million pounds, down 2 percent from 2004. Expected acreage for harvest, at 118,000, is down 14 percent from last year. Yield is forecast at 3,044 pounds per acre, down 398 pounds from the previous year. As of Oct. 2, peanut harvest was 9 percent complete in North Carolina and 22 percent complete in Virginia. Both states lagged behind their five-year averages by 6 and 12 percentage points, respectively.

The Virginia/North Carolina area grows almost entirely Virginia varieties. “At this time, just a few runner peanuts are planted in Virginia, all for seed,” says Faircloth. “There may be some potential for runners here due to some disease resistance they have.”

Jordan says about 4,000 acres of runner peanuts are grown in North Carolina, along with just a smattering of Spanish, perhaps 200 acres.

Among Virginia varieties, the dominant are Perry, VA 98R, Gregory and Wilson in Virginia, and Gregory, VA 98R, NCV11 and Perry in North Carolina. Some new Virginia-type varieties may soon play a part: Champs, an early season peanut from Virginia, and Phillips and Brantley from North Carolina.

“The growers who are successful in peanuts in this region are the ones who can consistently produce high yields. You have to ask yourself if you can get the yields that will be needed under the current price structure,” says Jordan.

In a season like 2005, air flow is going to be an important factor in curing efficiency.

If air flow rates are too low, the peanuts will mold. If the air flow is excessive, the energy costs will be high. The general recommended air flow of 50 cubic feet per minute per square foot of curing floor (cfm/sq ft) at 0.75 inch static pressure is sufficient to cure up to 25 percent moisture peanuts five feet deep. The air flow provides 10 cubic feet per minute per cubic foot of peanuts at a depth of five feet.

You need a higher air flow for the first half of the curing cycle than the second. That’s because after your hulls are dry, especially during the last half of the curing cycle, the drying efficiency goes down. By comparison, when the hulls are wet, drying efficiency is very high.

On a multiple-trailer plenum system, air flow can be reduced during the last part of the curing cycle by partially closing the air gates of the trailers during the last half of the curing period, said Gary Roberson, Extension agricultural engineer. Generally, having the air gate half open keeps the curing efficiency high during the final curing stage.

By reducing the air flow to some trailers in the final curing stages, the other trailers in the first curing stages containing peanuts with wet hulls will receive an increased air flow.

Do not partially close enough air gates to restrict the fan or to cause the heater to malfunction.

On many curing systems, the trailer nearest the fan receives the least air. On these systems, the adjustments can be made by starting the newly filled trailers on the farthest end from the fan until the hulls are dry, then moving this trailer to the other end of the plenum nearest the fan.