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Best quality peanut crop many have ever seen

John Hart John_Hart_Farm_Press_2021_Peanut_Crop.jpeg
Bob Parker, president, and CEO of the National Peanut Board, sees a 3 million ton peanut crop this year.
The U.S. peanut industry is seeing record per capita consumption this year.

The 2021 peanut crop is turning out to be the best quality peanut crop Bob Parker has ever seen in his more than 40 years in the U.S. peanut industry.

In a Nov. 23 webinar sponsored by the American Peanut Council, Parker, president and CEO of the National Peanut Board, emphasized that this year’s crop is truly excellent when it comes to aflatoxin. Parker noted that shellers and handlers are doing internal testing on aflatoxin and the results show exceptionally low numbers, which bodes well for an exceptionally good quality peanut crop.

In the webinar, American Peanut Council President and CEO Richard Owen queried Parker and farmers Paul Rogers of Wakefield, Va.; Neil Lee of Brownfield, Ga.; and Jeff  Roper of Lubbock, Texas on the results of the 2021 peanut crop and the outlook for the 2022 crop.

The panelists all celebrated a successful 2021 harvest, but expressed concerns about next year’s crop where increasing production costs and supply chain issues remain top of mind for farmers everywhere.

On this year’s peanut production, Parker pointed to USDA’s October forecast that estimates the United States will produce a crop of 3,146,000 short tons of peanuts in 2021, up slightly from a crop of 3,108,000 short tons in 2020. Parker said the reason this year’s crop is larger is that USDA estimates an average yield of 4,100 pounds in 2021, compared to 3,813 pounds in 2020, a nearly 300-pound increase. Parker said he does not agree with the USDA estimate.

3 million ton crop

“I think the crop will be more in the range of three million tons because I think the yield will be more in line with last year’s yield of 3,800 pounds. We had a lot of rain. Rain makes grain as we always say. But we had some harvest issues early on because of excessive rains. When farmers can’t get the peanuts out of the field, they stay in the field too long, either before plowing or after they’re plowed. That will have an impact on overall yield,” Parker said.

Still, Parker made clear that the 2021 crop is a good one and the highest quality crop he’s ever seen. Importantly on the demand side, Parker said the U.S. peanut industry is seeing record per capita consumption this year, breaking last year’s consumption number, which was also a record.

“Last year, we set the record at 7.6 pounds per capita, for every man, woman and child in the United States. And this year, we actually built on that, 7.9 pounds per capita, an all- time record. Our goal as an industry is eight pounds per capita. We continue to see steady growth in consumption in the United States. We were at 6.8 pounds per capita in 2012,” Parker said.

Peanut butter is the most popular way of consuming peanuts in the United States. Last year, 56% of the U.S. peanut crop was used in peanut butter. Parker said peanut butter is found in roughly 94% of all pantries in the United States.

Turning to the crop, Neil Lee of Brownfield, Ga., noted that even though they saw a good bit of rain toward the end of the growing season, disease wasn’t a big problem on their farm this year. He said while yields were down by roughly 700 to 1,000 pounds per acre due to the rain, the quality of the peanut crop is good.

“We had some leafspot where the rain just kept on coming. We had some corn earworms. We had more corn in our area and that might have been part of the problem,” he said.

Less corn, more peanuts

As for planting choices next year, Lee said he may pull back on some corn acres and go up on peanut acreage due to high fertilizer prices.

In Virginia, Paul Rogers said there were few insect problems and very little issues with any kind of disease. He said the quality of his 2021 peanut crop was good.

“I’ve never farmed and not had to put any kind of insecticides on my peanuts. We did not have to this year. We never had insects. The fungicide products we are buying are so much better than they were years ago. We’re making two trips versus four trips, and I really think they are holding the disease pressure down. Plus, our rotations are better. We’ve gone to five- and six-year rotations in Virginia which is really, really helping our disease pressures,” he said.

He said good rotation is key to keeping disease pressure down over the years. “Typically, we are planting a corn, cotton, cotton, peanut rotation followed by wheat and soybeans. Two years of cotton, one year of corn and then we will plant peanuts with wheat and beans following in a typical year.”

For 2022, he expects his crop mix to remain about the same as 2021. He may plant a few more acres of peanuts if input costs continue to remain high due to the fact that peanuts are one of the most sustainable crops he grows and require less fertilizer than corn or cotton.

No pest problems

For Jeff Roper of Lubbock, Texas, pest problems weren’t an issue this year. It was a different story in 2020.

“Last year we had some worms that came in and started eating flowers on the plant that caused some problems on yield. This year we didn’t have that problem. The real main pest issue early really wasn’t on peanuts, it was more on cotton, it was grasshoppers. There were unbelievable numbers of grasshoppers coming out of pastures. They would just mow down the cotton plants. It didn’t really affect the peanuts too much,” he said.

“We did have some disease issues because of the rain that we did get and the timeliness of that and the temperatures that were associated with it after the fact, so we did have to spray some fungicide this year, more so than we ever have in the last few years. It didn’t really affect the quality of the crop as much as it did yield. Any time you have a disease issue, you’re going to affect yield. Disease is usually light, and we can blow it out the back of the machine and not send it in the truck,” he said.

In the meantime, Parker said the 2002 farm bill changed the peanut market drastically, shifting the market from a supply management program with quotas that limited the amount of peanuts that farmers could actually market to a more free-market type system.

“That allowed new areas to begin growing peanuts. We’ve seen shifts in production and new areas emerge, areas like Arkansas that did not grow any peanuts, Missouri grew no peanuts, but actually emerged and became a player in the marketplace. This year their crop will be about 4% of the total U.S. crop.

“We’ve seen areas of southern North Carolina, South Carolina, eastern Georgia, western Alabama that before did not have the quota required to grow peanuts. But they were very suitable areas for the crop. Now they are growing peanuts in rotation and that has been healthy for their farms because peanuts are great in rotation with corn or cotton,” Parker said.

Parker said these relatively new peanut growing areas are producing good crops.

“We had some areas that had more quota than they could really grow in an effective manner, and the quality and yields weren’t as good. So those areas may now have reduced planting. So we’re seeing a U.S. crop that’s a lot more consistent, predictable and of higher quality, one year to the next,” Parker said.

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