Faced with a one-two punch of over-supply and a major food safety scare, Virginia peanut growers are expected to plant 50 percent fewer acres this year than they did in 2008.
That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s prospective plantings survey released March 31.
The rapid decline of Virginia peanut plantings comes just a year after growers in the Old Dominion felt their industry was coming back from record-low production levels in 2006. Only 16,000 acres of peanuts were planted three years ago, but acreage had risen to 24,000 in 2008.
A nationwide recall of peanut products in February due to salmonella contamination put the brakes on peanut consumption just when growers were trying to decide how much to plant. “When we sit down and look at our crop budget, we cannot project a profit right now for any of the crops we grow,” said M.L. Everett, chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Peanut Advisory Committee. He and his father and son also grow cotton and soybeans in Southampton County.
Everett said there is basically a year’s supply of peanuts already harvested and in the nation’s food production pipeline, so processors and manufacturers have cut their contract prices for growers by 25 percent.
Farmers in southeastern Virginia have no good alternatives for peanuts this year, he added. World cotton prices are low. Soybean prices have dropped after last year’s record-high prices. Corn prices also have returned to historic levels, but that crop is almost twice as expensive to plant as soybeans and is more susceptible to drought.