While Virginia cotton plantings are up this spring, growers in Southeast Virginia are reducing their plantings of another traditional crop.

Peanut plantings are expected to decrease by 4,000 acres to 14,000 in 2011, according to the March 31 spring plantings estimate from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Virginia peanut growers had a poor year in 2010 due to drought, with yields dropping and production estimated at 27 percent less than in 2009.

The acreage decrease was forecast last month by Del Cotton, director of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association. "We may not see as many peanuts planted this year, especially considering cotton prices," Cotton told the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Cotton and Peanut Advisory Committee.

Part of the challenge for growers is the recent economic downturn, and part of it is this winter’s weather, Cotton said. Demand for candy and snack peanuts has dropped over the past five years, while peanut butter demand has increased 22 percent since 2006. Virginia-type peanuts typically go into candy and snacks, while less-expensive runner-type peanuts from other parts of the Southeast are processed into peanut butter.

At the same time, cotton prices have been through the roof, tempting growers to shift acreage to that crop. Corn and soybean prices are also up, according to Jonah Bowles, VFBF agriculture market analyst.

"Cotton ending stocks have never been this low, and China has been buying cotton like mad," even though market prices topped $2 a pound for several weeks, Bowles said. "And in the battle for acres between corn and soybeans, corn is winning."

Peanut growers could reduce their plantings even more this year if the weather isn’t right, said Gary Cross, a Southampton County peanut and cotton grower.

"The weather is still a key factor," he explained. "I can change my mind right up to almost the day I plant. So if we have a dry spring, I might shift more acreage into cotton myself."