This would have been a good year to gauge the soil temperature by the thermometer of the ole Georgia county Extension agent who said he knew it was time to plant peanuts when he could sit bare bottom on the soil. The soil temperature number for peanut planting is 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

All across the peanut belt, cooler-than-normal temperatures and rains in some places in late spring pushed back peanut planting. For the most part, the risk of tomato spotted wilt virus has taken care of those early planting dates in April.

A sampling of the crop across the belt shows what Auburn University Extension peanut specialist Dallas Hartzog describes as “an optimistic start” despite extremes.

In Georgia, as well as other parts of the Southeast, soil temperatures barely reached 65 degrees Fahrenheit in mid-April and would have made producer planting a chancy venture. Temperatures then swung from highs of 70 degrees Fahrenheit to highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit in a period of three days in Georgia. Some Georgia growers were still inquiring about planting peanuts as late as June 23, says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist. “Considering the extremes, the peanuts look in really good shape,” Beasley says.

It was a wet and cool spring in Florida. Rain and higher temperatures in early June brought a flourish of weeds. Drier weather was beginning to dominate in Florida by the latter part of June. “The crop is looking pretty good in Florida,” says Ben Whitty, University of Florida Extension peanut specialist.

Alabama growers have relatively good stands, and peanuts have reached the stage where they take off in growth.

Out in Texas, they last saw temperatures below 90 degrees Fahrenheit on June 5. “The extreme heat really compensated for the cool start,” says Chip Lee, Texas A&M University Extension plant pathologist. Rain stopped at Easter in central Texas. “All in all, the crop looks in very good shape in Texas.”

As June turns to July, much of the peanut belt stands in need of rain.

“It’s pretty dry in a lot of places,” says David Jordan, North Carolina State University Extension peanut specialist. “But dry in June really doesn’t mean as much as dry in July or August.” Spider mites could develop if the dry weather lingers, and have been noted on cotton.

“For us, a big factor is the rainfall we get,” says Jay Chapin, Clemson University Extension peanut specialist. “It builds in compensation. It’s really all about getting some timely showers in the next two months. The rest of it we can handle.”

On the disease front, so far there’s little to report. “Most farmers have been alert to spray for foliar diseases,” says Auburn’s Hartzog, referring to Alabama conditions. “They have seen the effect of storms such as Ivan and know that it takes a consistent spray schedule to stay on top of diseases.”

Some differences in the USDA’s March prospect plantings report and actual plantings have begun to pop up.

First estimates in North Carolina pegged the 2005 crop at 105,000 acres. Jordan says the number may be closer to 85,000 when it becomes official in North Carolina.

South Carolina is still experiencing an increase in acreage, likely jumping to 50,000 acres in 2005 from 11,000 acres three years ago when peanut quota was bought out. That’s some 5,000 acres less than the March planting intentions report for South Carolina.

Georgia may come close to acreage projections for this year of 750,000 acres. Florida will likely have its projected 150,000 acres. The expansion comes in the western part of the Florida Panhandle near Pensacola; in the east, near the Suwanee River. “Good yields because of the new land,” Whitty says.

When quota was scrapped under the 2002 farm bill, the Southwest and the Virginia-Carolina region lost acreage. The Southeast picked up the lion’s share of the acreage.

Acreage in Texas in 2005 could be down slightly from last year’s 240,000 acres planted. Oklahoma’s acreage is projected to be down to 34,000 acres. Peanut acreage in Virginia is down around 25,000 acres, an 8,000-acre drop from 2004. Acreage in New Mexico is projected at 18,000 acres.

Alabama continues to see expansion in peanut acreage, planting a projected 215,000 acres in 2005, based on the March report. Some growers in the traditional areas of southeast Alabama are returning to peanuts after planting the land to bahiagrass in 2002, Hartzog says. The bulk of the Alabama increase is in Escambia and Monroe counties, and areas from Selma to Tallahassee. At last count, more than half of Alabama’s 67 counties were growing peanuts. Alabama harvested 199,000 acres in 2004.

The March prospective plantings had the U.S. peanut crop at nearly 1.6 million acres.

A new report was not available at press time.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com