Peanuts may become more prominent crop in Delta

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Peanuts may become a much more prominent crop in the Delta as development and land prices push up costs in traditional peanut-growing regions.

“We’ve always had the ability to grow peanuts; we were just limited in the acreage,” said Alan Blaine, head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona.

Right now, in Leflore County, 300 to 400 acres of peanuts are awaiting harvesting, according to Jerry Singleton, an agent with the Leflore County Extension Service.

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Those peanuts are being grown just north of Sidon by farmer Ashley Selman of Monticello, he said.

Once it’s dry enough, maybe as soon as this week, those peanuts will be harvested, Singleton said.

Blaine said peanut growing was under a strict U.S. Department of Agriculture quota system until about three years ago. The peanut quota system began more than 60 years ago.

“I believe it was during World War II; the peanut was used to help the war effort,” he said.

Peanut acreage was predominantly in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Although land in the designated peanut quota system could be used for other crops, the peanut acreage was fixed within each specific county, Blaine said.

That part of the federal farm program changed in 2002.

Now, as pastures and row crop land in Georgia and elsewhere continue to diminish due to urban development, peanuts are being grown in sandy soils in Mississippi.

Blaine said another factor in the peanut’s migration to Mississippi is the scarcity of water for irrigation in traditional growing regions.

Mississippi’s production has jumped dramatically since the quota system was scrapped.

“In 2002, we had roughly 4,000 acres of peanuts. This year, the state has 16,000 acres of peanuts,” said Mike Howell, an area agronomist with the state Extension Service in Collins.

He said around 50 percent of the state’s peanut crop is grown in George, Forrest and Lamar counties.

Peanuts are showing a small profit for their growers on the open market, with soybeans slightly less profitable, Howell said. “Peanuts are going to be comparable to cotton,” he said.

The crop requires a fairly intensive effort on the part of farmers. Production costs run about $600 per acre with an expected yield of 2 tons of peanuts per acre, Collins said. There’s one limitation: Peanuts need sandy-type soils in order to do well.

Blaine said another advantage is that most peanut-type soils in the state have never grown peanuts. That should provide excellent yields for the first few years of production.

Peanuts are susceptible to various types of fungi, so farmers must use fungicides throughout the growing season, he said.

The federal government still sets prices for peanuts, as it does for cotton, soybeans, rice and cotton. That should make peanuts a more attractive crop for Mississippi farmers in the future, Blaine said.

“I’m predicting that peanuts will be a major player in Mississippi,” he said.