Peanut acreage in Georgia this year dropped to the lowest amount in three decades, a sharp decline for the country’s leading peanut-producing state.

Farmers planted 480,000 acres of peanuts this spring, according to a recent survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If the peanut industry wanted to know what the bottom floor was for peanut acreage in Georgia in modern time, we reached it this year,” said Nathan Smith, a farm economist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Georgia’s peanut acreage has only fallen below 500,000 acres twice in the last 30 years with 494,000 acres planted in 2000 and 475,000 acres planted in 1982, Smith said.

Previous to 1982, Georgia peanut acreage hadn’t dropped below 500,000 since 1967, when 493,000 acres were planted.

National acreage also down

Peanut acres are down nationally, too, expected to be 1.152 million acres, 10.5 percent less than last year.

Farmers planted fewer peanuts this year because prices for other crops, particularly cotton, “were more attractive to them,” he said. But this may not be the case next year.

Higher peanut prices

The country’s peanut-growing regions are now in the grips of drought, which is hurting the crop. More than 20 percent of the peanuts in Georgia are rated as poor to very poor, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service.

If farmers can wrestle average yields from the poor conditions, the U.S. will harvest about 1.8 million ton of peanuts this year, and half of that will come from Georgia fields.

The country currently has 765,000 tons left in stockpile from last year’s crop, which will mean a 2.6 million ton peanut supply for the country this year.

The U.S. is projected to use or export 2.1 million tons, which leaves 500,000 tons for next year’s stockpile. The peanut industry likes to keep at least 500,000 tons in surplus each year to guard against crop failures and to insure a steady peanut supply throughout the year.

“The crop this year has far to go, but it is shaping up to be a short year for production, which has gotten many people already thinking about next year,” Smith said.

Peanut prices are climbing. Last year’s crop now coming out of storage is selling for $750 per ton.

Prices earlier this year were $600 per ton. Prices next year, he said, could reach $800 to $900 per ton or higher, the highest peanut prices in 20 years.

Peanut harvest will begin in September.