In just the last couple of years, Mississippi has added a buying point for Delta peanut growers, formed a peanut producer association, and in a validation of sorts, is now officially recognized by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service as a peanut-producing state.
This all comes on the heels of the state producing the second highest average yield in the nation last year, according to USDA. “We were second behind Texas and most of the Texas peanuts are irrigated and we're 99 percent dryland,” said Mike Howell, area agronomist for the Extension Service, who has peanut responsibilities in the state.
Howell attributes much of the high Mississippi yields to reduced disease pressure. “We had a lot of virgin ground in peanuts and the lack of disease pressure really helped.”
It also helps when growers implement good management practices for control of disease, noted Howell. “When we started increasing peanut production, several of us worked on getting our growers started on the right foot. We've been stressing rotation and a strict fungicide schedule. Most producers are sticking with that. They got on a 10 day to 14-day spray schedule and are rotating back to peanuts once every two to three years. That has really helped to keep our disease pressure low.
“There are a few growers who are trying to cut back on fungicide and trying to go peanuts behind peanuts, and that scares me. It's setting the table for these diseases to come in and take off.”
Mississippi harvested 15,000 acres of peanuts in 2005 and Howell expects acreage to increase to between 20,000 acres and 22,000 acres this year. Some experts were expecting a larger year-to-year increase in acreage. Howell explains that being on the end of an expiring farm bill, “nobody wanted to jump out and make big investments.”
The largest, and oldest, area of peanut production in Mississippi is in southeast Mississippi, south of Hattiesburg. There is another small pocket in northeast Mississippi around Aberdeen. And peanut fields are scattered up and down the entire delta, from Batesville to Natchez.
In September, 2005, Josh Miller and Trey Heigle, who are also peanut producers, started the Delta region's only buying point and storage facility, Delta Peanut, LLC. The facility, located 25 yards off Hwy. 61 in Anguilla, Miss., was the destination for 2,400 acres of Mississippi peanuts in 2005, according to Miller. “This year, we're going to more than double in size to around 5,300 acres to 5,400 acres. Next year, if the farm bill is favorable, we could double again.”
Miller did not have any experience at running such a facility, but the economics were easy to figure out. “What it cost us to haul our peanuts to Alabama, we were able to buy our trailers and our dryers. So instead of giving $175,000 to truckers, we put it into the facility.”
The facility “is extremely important to Mississippi peanut growers,” says Howell. “If we didn't have that buying point, the peanuts would have to go to Alabama. That's going to eat up a lot of trucking. With fuel prices the way they are now, that would really cut into profits.”
Despite the interest in peanuts, not much peanut research is currently available for Mississippi growers. Howell has put in some research plots for varieties, yield and grade and tillage demonstrations.
His research has indicated that twin-row peanuts don't show much promise in the Mid-South. “We're actually showing a yield advantage for single-row peanuts. We're doing that test again this year. Our preliminary hypothesis is that we have more vine production in this part of the state than they do in Florida and Georgia, and we don't have the tomato spotted wilt virus problem.
“We're thinking that single-row peanuts are going to be our best practice until we start picking up more disease problems. Each year, we're seeing a little more spotted wilt and leaf spot. We're definitely not at damaging levels like they are in Georgia and Florida. But it's just a matter of time.”
Howell's variety research also revealed some surprises. “Georgia Green has been the predominant peanut variety for the past 10 to 12 years, with probably 95 percent of the acreage right now. On every one of our variety tests last year, Georgia Green was at the very bottom of our variety trials. AP 3 was at the top of the trials in most instances. And Georgia O2C has been good. We have a lot of producers trying those varieties this year.”
Research also indicates that residual nitrogen from the peanut crop is 30 pounds to 35 pounds. “That's about what we were getting from soybeans, but we're hoping to do some more research in the next few years and see if we can document that a little better.”
As of May 18, Mississippi was in the heart of planting season, according to Howell. “The area south of Hattiesburg was extremely dry early. We went from the end of February to May 1 without any rainfall. We have 35 percent to 40 percent of our acres planted by today.
“Growers got started a little earlier in the Delta. “Peanuts are just starting to grow, but they may be getting set back a little bit. We've been told they have had some 40 degree to 50 degree nights over a two to three week period. And that is slowing those peanuts down. A few acres were replanted after hailstorms. So it's been tough getting them started, but we still have plenty of time to make a good crop.”
The officers of the new Mississippi Peanut Growers Association are president, Joe Morgan, Hattiesburg; vice president, Clayton Lawrence, Jr., Lucedale; secretary, Mike Steede, Lucedale; and treasurer, Van Hensarling, Richton. All but Steed are peanut producers. Steede is with George County Extension Service.
The growers on the board have been in peanut production for 10 years each, according to Howell. “Most of our new producers have been in a cotton/corn rotation and are looking for something that is more economically feasible than corn in the rotation. Right now, peanuts have a good fit.”