“I hadn’t really planned to grow peanuts this year,” says Robert Agostinelli, Jr., who farms with his brother-in-law, Charles Balducci, near Clarksdale, Miss.

“The Clint Williams Peanut Co. was holding an informational meeting for area growers earlier this year, and I went mainly out of curiosity, just to hear what they had to say,” says Agostinelli, who grew up on his father’s cotton farm and has been growing that crop all his farming career, later adding soybeans and corn.

“Their proposal was pretty interesting — basically, they were willing to book acres this year on an all-production basis at an attractive contract price. So, we ended up planting 450 acres of peanuts.”

Clint Williams currently has under construction a buying point facility at Clarksdale, said to be the largest in the U.S., and another 60 miles away at Greenwood, Miss.

“They’re putting a lot of millions into these facilities,” Agostinelli says. “With that kind of investment in infrastructure, they appear committed to the future of peanuts in the Mississippi Delta. That was another consideration in our branching out into a crop that’s totally new to us, and in spending money to buy a digger and combine for harvesting the crop.”

In the 1970s, when peanuts were still under the quota system, all the acreage in Mississippi — about 6,000 acres of Spanish-type peanuts — was here in the Coahoma County area, and there was a buying point at nearby Jonestown.

Later, those allotments were sold to growers in south Mississippi, and the Delta was out of the peanut business until the quota system was eliminated in the 2002 farm bill, allowing anyone to grow the crop.

Since then, acres have been added in south Mississippi, the lower Delta, and in northeast Mississippi, but 2011’s drought-shortened crop in Texas that sent prices soaring to as much as $1,000 per ton, created widespread interest in growing peanuts.

Mississippi had the highest average peanut yield in the nation last year, and this season it’s estimated that plantings have topped 50,000 acres, more than double 2011. Much of the increase has been by Delta and east Mississippi farmers growing the crop for the first time, or those who’ve been growing peanuts a few years and added acres this year.

Aside from the attractive contract price, Agostinelli says, “We think peanuts will be an excellent rotation with our cotton under center pivots — and with cotton at 70 cents, peanuts are also a good cropping alternative.”