Farmers are waiting on Congress to tell them what they'll have to work with in the next farm bill, which will affect the coming growing season.
"This farm bill is different for Georgia, because we're looking at major changes to the peanut program," said Nathan Smith, economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Georgia produces about 40 percent of all peanuts grown in the United States.
The proposed peanut program makes a major shift from the supply control in place for 70 years. New regulations will have to be written and learned by the industry. The pending, but uncertain, changes have peanut growers in limbo.
"Right now we're just having to wait and see what's going to happen with this (farm bill)," said Jerry Heard, who grows peanuts, cotton and corn in Calhoun County.
Industry on Hold
The delay has been felt throughout the peanut industry.
"Bankers are not sure what price to base operating loans on," Smith said. "This in turn works its way into rental agreements."
In January, land and quota owners typically get their lease payments. "Growers are unable to pay," Smith said, "because of the delay in financing. Or they don't want to commit because of the uncertainty of a new farm bill."
The industry is on hold. Without a finalized peanut program, manufacturers don't know how many peanuts they'll need from U.S. growers this year.
Oversupply Looms Over 2002
The worst thing growers could do, even after the farm bill passes, is to "plant peanuts from fence row to fence row," said U.S. Rep. Terry Everett of Alabama.
"We're going to have to produce what we can produce to make a profit," Everett told 1,200 attendants at a farm conference in Albany, Ga., last week.
Georgia and other peanut-producing states had an excellent production season in 2001, about 27 percent better than in 2000. The state's growers had their second-highest average yield on record at 3,300 pounds per acre.
But the market now has an oversupply of peanuts.
"Increased foreign competition and the strong dollar worked against U.S. exports (in 2001)," Smith said. "The combination of increased supply and slowing demand has created a situation of too many peanuts in the pipeline."
The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the farm bill in October of last year. The Senate version is still pending. Congress will reconvene after break on Jan. 24.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)