With peanut production in Georgia and other Southeastern states continuing to climb upwards, growers are being cautioned to manage their acreage prudently, and not to lose sight of the value of rotation and the danger of over-production.

“There have been only two years, not including the World War II timeframe, when our peanut acreage was higher, and that was 1989 and 1990,” says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist. “That knocked our rotation out of sequence. We at Extension want to stress to everyone the need to manage acreage, taking into account rotational crops and the economics involved.”

To illustrate the rapid increase in peanut acreage in some areas, Beasley says Appling County, Ga., went from having 70 acres of peanuts in 2002, to 700 acres in 2003, to 7,000 acres in 2004, and up to15,000 acres this year.

“Overall, according to FSA, we planted 750,000 acres of peanuts in Georgia this year. That’s up about 25 percent compared to two years ago,” says the agronomist. Peanut production in Georgia is forecast at 2.33 billion pounds this year compared to last year's 1.83 billion pounds. If this production forecast is realized, it will be the highest on record.

Looking at yields and acreage for the past 55 years, Beasley says Georgia grew 1-million-plus acres during World War II when farmers were asked to grow peanuts because oil was needed for the war effort.

“For more than 25 years, we were under the old acreage allotment system, when growers could grow only a certain amount of peanuts and a certain number of acres. That changed with the 1980 farm bill when the program switched to a quota-poundage system, and growers had the flexibility to plant extra acres. Then, our acres increased steadily up until 1991.

“We at Extension put in an education program strongly encouraging our producers to get their acreage down. Our rotation was basically out of sequence. At the time, our yields had gone down, and we had to get our acreage down,” says Beasley.

In the late 1990s and up until a few years ago, Georgia’s acreage pretty much mirrored the old 525,000-acre range seen under the acreage allotment system, he says. “Statewide average yields were barely 1,000 pounds per acre during the 1950s and early 1960s. At about 1970, with the release of the Florunner variety and the release of new chemistry, particularly the fungicide Bravo for leafspot control, our yield potential increased. Also, there was a dramatic change from 1970 to 1980, and when we went from being about 7-percent irrigated to about 50-plus percent irrigated. Our yield potential now is much better,” he says.

In the past two years, Georgia growers have seen outstanding yields, and they’re looking forward to another good crop this year, he says. “In 2003, we had 3,450 pounds per acre, and that’s the best yield on record in Georgia. Last year, despite terrible harvest conditions, we made 3,000 pounds per acre. This year, the initial estimate is 3,100 pounds per acre,” says Beasley. U.S. peanut production is forecast at a record-high 2,504,900 tons, up 18 percent from last year's crop, according to USDA. Planted acres, at 1.65 million, are down fractionally from the June estimate but up 15 percent from last year. Area for harvest is expected to total 1.61 million acres, down 5,000 from the June estimate but up 15 percent from last year. Yields are expected to average 3,117 pounds per acre, down 73 pounds from August but up 60 pounds from 2004.

Production in the Southeastern states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, is expected to total 1,782,300 tons, down 4 percent from August but up 24 percent from last year's level. Planted acres, at 1.21 million, are down 3 percent from the June estimate but up 21 percent from 2004. Expected acreage for harvest, at 1.18 million, is down 3 percent from August but up 21 percent from last year. Yields in the four-state area are expected to average 3,029 pounds per acre or 83 pounds above 2004. As of Aug. 28, peanuts in Alabama were rated 81 percent good to excellent. Peanuts in Florida were rated 82 percent good to excellent, and in Georgia, peanuts were rated 72 percent good to excellent.

Virginia-North Carolina production is forecast at 184,400 tons, down 20 percent from 2004. Planted acres, at 120,000, are up 6 percent from the June estimate but down 13 percent from 2004. Expected acreage for harvest, at 118,000, is down 14 percent from last year. Yield is forecast at 3,125 pounds per acre, down 240 pounds from the previous year. As of Aug. 28, peanuts were rated 77 percent good to excellent in Virginia and 68 percent good to excellent in North Carolina.

Southwest peanut production, including New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, is expected to total 538,200 tons, up 15 percent from 2004. Planted acres, at 319,000, are up 9 percent over last year. The expected acreage for harvest in the region totals 312,000, up 9 percent from 2004. Yields are expected to average 3,450 pounds per acre, 161 pounds above last year's level. Record-high yields are expected in Oklahoma and Texas. On Aug. 28, peanuts rated good to excellent in Oklahoma and Texas were 75 percent and 78 percent, respectively.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com