Overall, the 2004 peanut crop is off to a good start. Reports from across the peanut belt indicate that growers are feeling pretty good about the prospects of the crop. In at least a couple of places, contract offerings had a bearing on the amount of acres planted.

The driest March on record in Georgia meant a slow start to the crop, says John Baldwin, University of Georgia Extension agronomist. The dry weather continued through May and resulted in a lot of late-planted peanuts during the month. “A lot of thrips injury early on,” Baldwin says, “and reduced stands.”

Rain in June had the crop “looking good for the most part,” Baldwin says.

Georgia planted an estimated 565,000 acres of peanuts this season. That would reflect an increase from last year's 535,000 acres. “It could be up slightly from that number,” Baldwin says. “Most people increased their seeding rate, that would account for the increased seed sales.” The increase is coming from the southeast, southwest and eastern counties in Georgia. North-central and northwest counties in Georgia's peanut belt have seen declines in acreage.

As the 2004 crop came up, growers were concentrating on post-emergence weed control, as the pre-emergence applications didn't work because of lack of rain.

“With rains in the middle of June, everybody's feeling pretty good,” Baldwin says.

In Alabama, growers faced dry weather just before planting and wet weather in May and June. “The crop is up and the stands are good, the weeds are plentiful and farmers are dodging the rains to try to get the peanut crop cleaned up and get the first and second fungicide sprays on,” says Dallas Hartzog, Auburn University Extension agronomist.

“We have every reason to believe that we'll have a normal crop year,” Hartzog says.

It's estimated that Alabama peanut farmers may plant a few more peanut acres than the 190,000 they did last year. Growers in the non-traditional peanut areas of southwest Alabama account for the increase. Last year, about 25 percent of the acreage in Alabama was grown in non-traditional peanut areas from Selma to the Gulf Coast, Hartzog says.

“Our growers are optimistic,” Hartzog says. “They're glad to have the rain (in June), but that has put a lot of them behind. I don't see any problems right now that growers can't overcome.”

Florida has seen an increase in peanuts acres under the new farm bill. In 2003, acreage increased to 107,000 acres, up from 83,000 acres the previous year. Ben Whitty, University of Florida Extension peanut specialist, says much of the expansion has come from the far western counties of Santa Rosa and Escambia.

In South Carolina, peanut growers have seen an increase in peanut acreage over the past two years. They're estimated to have planted as much as 33,000 acres of peanuts this season.

Much of the acreage increase has come from Virginia and North Carolina, with first-time growers. Calhoun and Orangeburg counties are now the top two peanut-producing areas of the state. “Our experience has been that a good farmer can do exceptionally well with peanuts the first time out,” says Jay Chapin, Clemson University Extension peanut specialist.

The peanut crop in South Carolina was under a lot of stress earlier in the season, but growers caught a few showers in mid-June. “If we can get timely showers in July and August, we'll be alright,” Chapin says.

In North Carolina, “the crop looks really good,” says David Jordan, North Carolina State University Extension peanut specialist. “The crop is at least a week ahead of where it was this time last year.”

The majority of the crop was planted on time and was pushed along by good temperatures. North Carolina producers planted an estimated 100,000 acres in 2004. An acreage shift has occurred from the northeast to the southeast in the state as a result of the new farm bill, Jordan says.

In Virginia, the story continues to be the decline in peanut acreage over the past two years. In 2003, Virginia had 33,000 acres, down from 57,000 acres in 2002. During the last few years of the previous farm bill, Virginia had about 75,000 acres of peanuts.

With the announcement that Virginia growers would plant about 35,000 acres in 2004 came a sigh of relief, and the hope that the hemorrhaging of acres had stopped for the time being. “I don't know if the acreage for this year is a bit of a Band Aid or not,” says Joel Faircloth, Virginia Tech Extension peanut specialist, in his first year as peanut and cotton specialist.

“Acreage, I think, is a year-by-year decision right now,” Faircloth says. “They're waiting on contracts. A lot of growers had decided not to plant and then they got a contract for production this year.” Steady rains have the crop off to a good start, Faircloth says.

New Mexico growers increased acres because of a contract close to $600 a ton, says Floyd McAllister, Roosevelt County (N.M.) Extension agricultural agent. New Mexico peanut acreage could run close to 20,000 acres, after sliding to around 17,000 acres last year. Roosevelt County produces the bulk of the Valencias in the state. Roosevelt County had some 7,500 acres of peanuts last year, but could have as much as 15,000 this year, McAllister says.

The crop has benefited from early moisture in March and timely rains since, McAllister says. “Things are looking pretty good.”

In Texas, the condition of the crop “depends where you're at,” says Dan Hunter, manager of the Southwestern Peanut Growers Association. “Certain places have had a lot of rain and then there are those that always need rain.”

Flooding has occurred in south Texas. In west Texas, “they're having to water pretty hard,” Hunter says. “I think the picture has been pretty decent.”

But overall, the crop seems to be progressing similar to last year. Acreage could be down about 4 percent to 5 percent, Hunter says. In 2003, Texas peanut farmers harvested 240,000 acres, down from 280,000 in 2002.

“If we get some late hail, like we did last year, we could see some Spanish acreage come in,” Hunter says.

In Oklahoma, growers are coming off harvesting the least amount of peanut acres since 1937. Acreage slipped from 57,000 in 2002 to 38,000 in 2003. Acreage in the state has also shifted to the west and south of the traditional peanut-producing areas.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com