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Peanuts gain ground in Mississippi

Mississippi producers are showing that working for peanuts is not a bad thing.

The state produced the second-highest per acre peanut yield in the country in 2005 with between 1.7 and 1.8 tons grown per acre. Since 2001, Mississippi jumped from obscurity in peanut circles to No. 9 in the nation on the strength of about 17,000 acres of the crop. Peanut acreage is expected to increase about 10 percent this year.

Mike Howell, Mississippi State University Extension Service southeast district area agronomist, said the 2002 farm bill opened the door for the crop in Mississippi.

“When the quota system was eliminated, it became possible for a lot more farmers to grow peanuts,” Howell said. “The interest really sparked in the southeast corner of the state where a few farmers had already been growing peanuts for several years. Peanuts now are grown there, throughout the Delta and in the northeast part of the state.”

Diseases can transfer between peanuts and soybeans, but peanuts make a good rotation crop for corn or cotton. Peanuts can be grown on any soil type, although they perform best on sandy soils. Heavy soils make harvest difficult for this below-ground crop.

“We can find sandy spots in most counties in Mississippi,” Howell said. “The southeast part of the state will probably remain the best part of the state for peanuts, but peanuts can be grown anywhere there is sandy soil, such as along rivers and creek bottoms.”

Howell said the state has high yields because it has low disease pressure. “You have to rotate peanuts because of disease pressure,” Howell said. “We’re on new soils, so we don’t have the disease pressure now that other states face, but we probably will in five or six years.”

Peanut harvest equipment is significantly less expensive than harvest equipment for corn or cotton, and peanut inputs match cotton’s input cost of $500 to $600 an acre. With good per acre yields and a minimum price of $355 per ton, Howell said peanuts are as economically attractive as cotton grown on good land.

George County in southeast Mississippi leads the state in peanut acreage with more than 2,000 acres in 2005 and 2006. Mike Steede, George County Extension director, said he expects no real change in peanut acreage in his county until a new farm bill changes farm policy again.

“Peanuts perform well in this area, and do fairly well in a drought situation compared to other crops,” Steede said.

Ken Hood, Extension agricultural economist, said peanuts’ estimated value of production in Mississippi was $7.83 million in 2006.

“I expect this to increase in 2007 if weather during the growing season is normal,” Hood said. “Prices have held steady, but if speculation is correct about large tracts of Georgia peanut acreage moving to corn this year, we may benefit as buyers offer premiums over the loan rate.”

Hood said total peanut acreage nationwide has steadily declined since 2002. Peanut stocks are down from 2006, and it appears that national peanut production will decline again in 2007.

“Buyers may try to lock in supply with spring contract prices above the loan rate,” Hood said.

A bill is pending in the Mississippi Senate to impose a $2.50 per ton checkoff on peanuts. Howell said the state’s peanut growers association is trying to establish the program to fund research and promotion of the crop in Mississippi.

Howell said peanuts grown in the southeastern United States are of the highest quality in the world, and most Mississippi peanuts end up in candy, peanut butter or packaged as snacks.

In 2006, MSU entered the peanut retail market with 18-ounce cans of crunchy and smooth peanut butter, and 1-ounce foil packages and 12- and 60-ounce cans of roasted peanuts. The products are available for purchase on campus in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Sales Store, also known as the MSU Cheese Store.

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