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Weather woes lead to disappointing peanut crop

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

It was about as good as it could get last year. But this year, everything that could have gone wrong did. Georgia's 2002 peanut crop will be about average, but a far cry worse than last year's near-record crop.

After battling late-season storms that kept them out of their fields, Georgia peanut farmers are finally at the end of harvest, almost a month behind schedule, said John Beasley, a University of Georgia peanut agronomist.

Opposites

"Last year, we had near-perfect conditions," he said. "But this year and last year are two opposites."

Georgia's 2002 peanut crop is estimated to be 1.35 million pounds, about 21 percent less than last year's crop, which was the second-best peanut production year in Georgia's history. Yields are expected to be around 2,600 pounds per acre, about 730 pounds less than last year, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service.

Georgia usually averages around 2,700 pounds per acre each year.

The Bad Guys

Either together or separately, all of the top peanut villains showed up this year. Drought, disease and insects loomed over the crop, hurting potential yields. Then ironically, after a dry growing season, excessive rains kept farmers from harvesting what was left of their crop.

"Around mid-October, we're usually winding down harvest in Georgia," Beasley said. A few farmers are still trying to finish their harvests.

Diggin' & Pickin'

The peanut harvest takes place in two phases: First, the peanuts, which grow underground, are dug up to the surface. The peanuts then lie exposed on the surface for a few days to dry. Then, a peanut combine runs over the exposed dry peanuts, picking them from the vines.

The rain kept farmers from digging peanuts and picking the peanuts that were dug in many cases, Beasley said. This hurt the quality of those peanuts.

Hurts Everywhere

The total U.S. peanut production this year is estimated to be around 3.51 billion pounds, down 18 percent from the 2001 total. U.S. yields are expected to average 2,579 pounds, down 450 pounds from 2001. Wet field conditions delayed harvest throughout the three U.S. peanut-producing regions.

Drought during the growing season hurt other peanut-growing states, too, particularly Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama. Disease and insects also damaged crops. Nine U.S. states grow peanuts.

Georgia produces about 40 percent of the total U.S. production. About 75 percent of Georgia's peanuts are used to make peanut butter. U.S. peanut butter consumption jumped 17 percent in 2001.

Despite the bad growing season, U.S. domestic peanut supplies will hold steady. Carry-over supplies from last year are good. And industry officials say U.S. peanuts will have a hard time breaking into the export markets this year due to the new way peanuts are priced under the new farm bill. They say it prices U.S. peanuts out of the world markets.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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