East Alabama peanut producer Mitch Lazenby rates this year's peanut season at about a seven and a half on a scale with 10 being the highest. “It has been a good season for us, and we're having a pretty good harvest,” said Lazenby in mid-November.
“We had about three good rains during the season, ranging from 2 to 4.5 inches. Last year, we had an extremely good harvest because it was so dry — we just didn't have any crop to harvest. This year, we've got a really good crop.”
Lazenby, who farms all dryland acreage in Lee County, Ala., says his peanut yield this season is averaging between 1.8 and 2 tons per acre over his 400-acre crop. On Nov. 11, the end of his harvest season was in sight, and he was trying to finish his last fields under cloudy skies.
“Pulling the peanut combine is like dragging a mobile home around. It's dead weight, it's extremely heavy, and the tractor is dragging it around the ends. So whenever the ground gets wet, it doesn't work well at all,” he says.
Lazenby is baling and selling all of his peanut hay, which is good for about $45 per roll. “Basically, we're getting about three rolls per acre. If you multiply that by $45 across 400 acres, that's another $38,000 to $50,000 worth of gross income. However, when you're looking at $600 per ton at 200 pounds per acre, it doesn't take long to get that money right back when you start buying fertilizer.
“So the question is, do you leave it out there for next year? In farming, you know you've had a successful year if you can farm another year. So if there's $40,000 to $50,000 potential gross right now, you have to get it — we'll worry about fertilizer costs in the spring, and the benefits of taking it or leaving it. If we don't make it through this year, next year is irrelevant,” he says.
Over the long-term, Lazenby says he thinks it's best to leave the hay on the ground. “But 2006 and 2007 were so bad, that we're generating some cash flow by gathering the hay. The price of peanuts more than likely will fall off this year, and next year you probably won't see as much acreage, so these things usually work themselves out.”
Lazenby says his market for peanut hay is pretty much limited to cattle farmers, since horse owners are reluctant to feed it.
Prices were up for this year's peanut crop, but so were input costs, he says. “We contracted peanuts early on. We're usually running them down for a contract in April. This past year, they gave us a price in December, so they were really trying to secure peanuts for this season. And we thought if we had a good yield, that'd be a pretty good price. But then they told us the price of peanut seed was increasing considerably, and we buy our seed from the same folks we contract with,” says Lazenby.
Overall, Alabama's peanut crop is of good quality for this year, says Kris Balkcom, Extension peanut specialist at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center in southwest Alabama. In Escambia County, closer to the Gulf Coast, some producers were reporting peanut yields of greater than two tons per acre.
Insect and disease damage on peanuts has been minimal this year, with boring bugs damaging some peanut stands that were planted in heavier soils. A few isolated locations were affected by tomato spotted wilt virus.
Alabama's 2008 peanut yield is forecast at 3,300 pounds per acre, an increase of 750 pounds from 2007, and a record yield since 1984. Peanut production is forecast at 630,300,000 pounds, up 157 percent from 2007.
Peanut harvesting was proceeding at a rapid pace in November due to favorable soil conditions with about 91 percent of peanuts dug by Nov. 1, well above last year's average by 14 percent and slightly above the five-year average by 4 percent.
Peanuts combined were 80 percent, which was up 15 percent when compared to 2007 and 2 percent from the five-year average.