Peanut plantings appear headed downward in much of the U.S. Peanut Belt, but growers in Virginia and the Carolinas are taking advantage of a renewed interest in Virginia-type peanuts to increase their acreage for 2007.

The change is most dramatic in Virginia, where peanut production seemed pointed toward extinction a year ago. Now, growers are returning to the crop with a vengeance.

“We are looking at a substantial increase in peanut acreage because of the higher prices offered in contracts,” says Joel Faircloth, Virginia Tech Extension peanut specialist, in late April. “I estimate 21,000 to 22,000 acres, which would be about a 25 percent increase.”

USDA projected even more in its prospective plantings report issued in March. “It is projecting 25,000 acres,” he says. “But I would be surprised if that much is planted.”

The increase will be almost entirely in Virginias, says Faircloth.

“It doesn’t appear there will be much increase in runners at all,” he tells Southeast Farm Press.

“Some of our growers like runners real well, and some don’t. I expect there will be only about 2,000 acres of runners, which would be a little less than 10 percent of all our plantings, but about the same as last year.”

Faircloth doesn’t rule out the possibility of a bigger place for runners in Virginia in the future, largely because of disease considerations.

“The only peanut variety we have with any significant resistance to tomato spotted wilt is a runner, Georgia Green,” he says. “There is just not much in the way of resistance in any of the Virginia varieties. If tomato spotted wilt were to become a major consideration here, Georgia Green would look better.”

Everybody in Virginia is excited about the rebound in peanut plantings, he says. “The supply was down two years in a row.”

The increase in peanut plantings has affected acreage of cotton in Virginia. “Cotton acreage is expected to be down to about 85,000 acres from 105,000 acres last year,” says Faircloth. “Some of that has gone into corn, and most of the rest has gone into peanuts. This is entirely due to higher prices for corn and peanuts.”

USDA projected 60,000 acres of plantings in South Carolina, and Clemson University Extension Peanut Specialist Jay Chapin says that is a reasonable estimate. “But I would say it might be lower, perhaps between 55,000 and 60,000 acres.”

Contract offerings were higher than last year, mostly $475 for Virginias and $415 for runners, says Chapin. That relationship would normally favor Virginias, but there was an unexpected development this season: a significant shortage of seed of their preferred variety, NC-V 11.

“Farmers here like this variety,” says Chapin. “It yields well consistently in dryland conditions.

“Some will switch to VA98R. We will probably see some Gregorys and a few Champs, and we may have to plant some Phillips. It may be a problem. Most of our peanut crop is grown on dry land. We need to use varieties that produce well if it doesn’t rain. Some of these varieties don’t do well if we get any kind of stress.”

There will be some shift to runners, says Chapin, but South Carolina will still be an overwhelmingly Virginia state. “Last year we had 80-percent Virginia, and it won’t be much less this year.”

In North Carolina, Extension Peanut Specialist David Jordan estimates that somewhere between 90,000 and 95,000 acres of peanuts will be planted, which is consistent with the USDA estimate of 94,000 acres.

The price situation favors Virginias.

“I doubt we will have as many runners as in the past,” says Jordan. “The price this year is a little more attractive for Virginias, and the buyers are not pushing runners as strongly.”

Because acreage has been down, peanuts will probably be planted on land that has been out of the crop longer than normal, which could lead to some agronomic benefits. But if the land was in soybeans last year or the year before, the benefit will be reduced.

The federal estimate is for 24,000 acres in Virginia (up 41 percent from 2005), 94,000 acres in North Carolina (up 11 percent), and 60,000 acres in South Carolina (up 2 percent). For the three states together, the USDA projects 178,000 acres, which would be nearly 11 percent more than 2006 and 3 percent more than 2005.

USDA’s national projection of peanut plantings is 1.2 million acres, down 4 percent from last year and the lowest since 1915. In the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi) growers intend to plant 797,000 acres, down 10 percent from last year. The most significant acreage decline in this region is expected in Georgia, down 14 percent from last year, the agency says. Growers in the southwest (New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) intend to plant 222,000 acres, up 17 percent from last year.

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