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Weather helps planting of big Georgia peanut crop

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia's cool, wet spring has delayed the growth of some crops. But the days are heating up just in time to help Georgia's peanut crop.

In May, temperatures across south Georgia climbed steadily into the 80s. Soil temperatures jumped by as much as 10 degrees, reaching the mid-70s at 4 inches deep.

This is good news for peanut farmers ready to plant this year's crop, said John Beasley, an agronomist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Around April 20, he said, soil temperatures around the peanut growing region were in the mid-60s, almost too low for proper seed germination. Soil temperatures are usually around the mid- 70s at that time, which is ideal for germination.

It should take a peanut seed about seven days to germinate and emerge from the ground as a young plant. But some earlier- planted peanuts took 15 days to start growing in the cooler temperatures, he said.

It's important for peanut seeds to germinate quickly and come up at the same time in fields, Beasley said. Research has shown that this helps reduce the risk of tomato spotted wilt virus, which causes millions of dollars in damage each year to peanuts and other Georgia crops.

Peanut farmers have to deal with TSWV every year. But if farmers can get into fields and begin planting peanuts soon, their risk for the disease will be lower. "In the next two to three weeks," he said, "there will be a lot of farmers trying to get peanuts planted."

They'll be planting more, too, said Nathan Smith, a UGA Extension Service economist. Georgia farmers are expected to plant 750,000 acres, 130,000 more than last year.

Right now, prices for row crops like corn and cotton are low. Fertilizer costs are high. And an economically damaging soybean disease has been confirmed in Georgia.

Peanut prices, however, have been good in recent years, around $400 per ton. And the demand for peanuts for food has climbed by about 20 percent in the past two years.

This has all made planting peanuts look like the safer bet for many farmers this year, Smith said.

If Georgia farmers have an average production year with the extra acres, there could be an oversupply around harvesttime in late summer, he said. This could lower prices.

"Even with the strong consumer demand," Smiths said, "it would be tough to use up that large a supply."

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

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