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Peanuts enjoy good year in Mississippi fields
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- While Mississippi peanut producers are having a good year, weather problems have hurt major peanut-producing states, driving supplies down and prices up.
“We produce excellent-quality peanuts in Mississippi. The Southeast in general produces the highest quality peanuts in the world,” said Mike Howell, area agronomic crops agent in Harrison County with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Farmers get paid on a 72-grade peanut, and it's not uncommon for our producers to have peanuts in the upper 70s and 80s.”
Despite a very dry year, most peanut acres got rain when it was needed. The crop got a good start with 75 percent planted on time. Dry weather delayed the remaining planting until June, but July rains helped all the peanuts start growing well.
There were six very dry weeks during the growing season, but rains fell before the crop got too dry. Heavy rain in mid-September helped fill out the peanuts.
“If we don't have a hurricane that dumps 6 to 8 inches of rain, we could have a really good year,” Howell said.
Mississippi acreage jumped in 2003 after the 2002 Farm Bill lifted quotas, making it possible for more producers to grow peanuts. Most of the state's 18,000 acres of peanuts are grown in southeast Mississippi. Some are grown in the south Delta, and a few are scattered across northeast and north central Mississippi. Fewer than 5 percent are irrigated.
Peanut harvest began in mid-September and should be complete by mid-November. Peanuts are dug out of the ground and inverted so the vines can dry for three to four days. A peanut combine separates the nuts from the vines, and the crop is hauled to the buying point.
Moisture samples are taken, and the peanuts are dried on the trailer if needed. They are then graded, purchased and moved into storage. Mississippi peanuts are used primarily in peanut butter and candy bars.
Howell said the state averages about 3,700 pounds of peanuts per acre, second in the country in 2005 only to Texas. Producers are getting $450 or more per ton for their peanuts.
Mike Steede, Extension director in George County, said this price is $100 a ton higher than last year's prices. George County leads the state with about 4,000 acres in peanut production.
“Peanuts do well on a sandy loam-type soil, and that is our dominant soil type,” Steede said.
Harvest has only just begun, but Steede estimated his county's peanut production will be between 3,000 and 3,500 pounds per acre.
“It's not uncommon to have almost 4,000 pounds per acre, but we went six weeks without any rain to speak of. It wouldn't surprise me if we were off 200 to 300 pounds an acre,” he said.
Steede said the bulk of the peanut crop is produced near the plant's taproot. Rains during the growing season allow the plant to set a “limb crop,” or nuts growing along secondary roots away from the center of the plant. This summer's drought did not allow a good limb crop to form.